It’s all over Google and Pinterest: “Smart Ways to Sneak Vegetables in Your Child’s Food,” “Foolproof Ways to Sneak Veggies into Kids Food,” “100+ Hidden Veggie Recipes,” “15 Foods You Can Sneak Vegetables into.” Recipes are named for this practice: “Sneaky Pasta Sauce,” “Hidden Veggie Sloppy Joes,” “Hidden Veggie Smoothie.” There are even cookbooks devoted to successfully hiding vegetables in kid’s food. It’s one of the most common pieces of advice parents give each other when commiserating about picky eaters who refuse to eat vegetables. However, this common practice of sneaking foods is problematic. Here are three reasons why:
Instead of sneaking foods into your child’s food, here are some things you can do:
Try these tips to make trying healthy foods fun and enjoyable for both you and your child!
This edible play dough is so incredibly easy in the food processor! All you need is nuts (or an alternative if your child has allergies - that's my next step!), white chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, honey, and food coloring.
Start by grinding the nuts (we used cashews) in the food processor to the desired consistency. I use this baby food processor because small amounts are less likely to get stuck on the sides.The nice thing is you can start out with a fine texture and work on increasing it gradually to work on textures with your child that might be sensitive. If you process it for a few minutes, it becomes a finer, sticky butter. We left it a little coarse to add some texture to our dough. At this point, we took some out to taste it and compare to a whole cashew.
Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave and stir the melted chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, honey, and a couple drops of food coloring into the food processor. Process until the dough forms into a ball - about a minute. You can also finish by kneading it by hand. Then, the play possibilities are endless!
We pretended to make pancakes, used cookie cutters, rolled it into worms, and more! I buried strawberries and melon pieces in the dough and the children enjoyed digging through to find them and tasting it along the way. Here's the recipe:
1 cup of nuts (or alternative)
1 cup of white chocolate chips
1/4 cup of sweetened condensed milk
1/2 Tablespoon of honey
1. Process nuts in the food processor
2. Place chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring after each time, until melted.
3. Add melted chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, honey and a couple drops of food coloring into the food processor
4. Blend until the dough clumps together into a ball. You may want to take the ball out and knead it by hand a bit too.
This recipe does turn out to be fairly sweet. Using unsweetened dark chocolate is really good too, but the brown color just doesn't look as appealing to kids.
I'm excited to share this visual recipe download with you all! I wanted to come up with a way for my daughter to participate more in cooking and start teaching her about following recipes. I came up with this visual recipe and it was a huge hit! They were so stoked to follow the instructions with more independence. It's easy - 6 ingredients, 5 steps, under 10 minutes - and delicious! Substitute peanut butter with any alternative to avoid allergies. It's also gluten free! You can download the file below.
Here are some benefits of involving your children in the cooking process:
We started out by reading through the instructions to make sure they understood the sequence. Then, we did one step at a time. I helped them with reading, but was really surprised by how much they understood from the photos!
Of course, their favorite part was the taste testing and they definitely approved! Oh, and in case you are wondering, it absolutely is necessary to wear that hat during the cooking process!
Here is the download for you to use! I'd love your feedback as I'm hoping to make more of these in the future!
My daughter won't eat bell peppers and we cook with them a bit, so I wanted to start working on exposing her to them more. Today we did this fun project - mini bell pepper stamping with edible paint.
She likes mayo so we just added some food coloring to a little bit of mayo to make a few colors of paint. You could also use sour cream or just different condiments (ketchup, mustard, barbecue sauce, ranch, etc.). Then, I cut off the tops of the peppers, gave her some paper and she was set!
She loved making art - we talked about the different shapes and mixed colors to see what we could come up with. (We had a lot of, "Oh! Cool! Brown again!" But, hey, whatever works!)
As we were stamping, something really neat happened. Without me even suggesting it, my daughter said "I want to lick the red mayo off of it!" So, I cut up some rings of pepper and she dipped them in the different colors and licked the mayo. Then, she took little nibbles and realized that maybe she does like peppers with colorful mayo on them. She ended up eating a few of the peppers!
This is exactly the purpose of this kind of activity - a no pressure way to teach a child about ways to try new foods!
So, here's an easy way to add some fun to your food. These edible eyeballs might make food more appealing to your child. Or, at the very least, it can be a way to add some fun to the mealtime. My daughter enjoyed eating the eyes and then giggling, "oh no, you can't see anything!" Little things like this can make a huge difference when trying to make mealtimes more enjoyable!
Yes, those words came out of my 3 year old this morning! My daughter has been helping me make smoothies some mornings. My goals have been to expose her to different fruits and vegetables, let her have control about what she puts in her smoothies, and teach her some self-help skills. Typically, I just put out a bunch of ingredients and she puts them together how she pleases. She loves being able to say that she made it for the family. I always include some greens but today we were all out and I happened to catch this adorable moment on video!
This is an example of why positive associations are so crucial! She would've never wanted to eat the greens plain, but loves to put it in the smoothie and watch it blend in with the berries. This is a method I use to teach her to turn things she might not like into something she will by blending flavors.
My daughter will only eat one or two slices of a raw apple but will eagerly scarf down an entire apple when it's steamed. Steaming the apple requires minimal effort and makes it soft and a little more sweet. These are the simple steps I take:
1. Core and slice - don't worry about he peels, they come off easily once it's steamed.
2. Place the slices in a steamer basket and put the basket in a saucepan with a few inches of water (don't let the water touch the apples).
3. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Let it boil until the apples are tender and can be pierced easily with a fork (about 5 minutes). You can very gradually keep them in for less time to get your child used to a harder texture and work up to raw apples.
4. Let it cool and peel the skin if desired. I encouraged my daughter to peel the skin herself to give her some extra exposure with it and because it's an awesome fine motor task! Eventually I will encourage her to try some bites with the skin on.
With the exception of the one slice she reluctantly gave up to her baby brother (another bonus - good for babies!) she devoured an entire apple in a couple minutes and asked for more!
I wanted to switch gears for a post and talk about another common mealtime challenge - the pokey eater. Do mealtimes seem to go on forever in your home, your child continuing to pick at their meal for a long time after everyone else is finished? I wanted to share a simple strategy to help with the pokey eater - the visual timer! A visual timer is great even for very young children because they are able to see how much time is left. It serves as a prompt to remind your child to keep taking bites and makes it that you don't have to be the one constantly providing verbal reminders. Here's what one looks like (this one is called the Time Timer and is sold on Amazon):
There are also apps for smartphones that do a good job. Here is an example of free iOS app called "Countdown" that I use in my home. It allows you to choose a custom photo to use and the color of the timer changes to red as time runs out. My daughter loves to be surprised with a new photo each time.
It's simple, but it's effective!
Many families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) encounter feeding challenges. Though the estimated prevalence rates of feeding challenges among those with ASD vary greatly in the literature, there is general consensus that they are more prevalent than in the general population. These challenges are associated with the core symptoms of ASD. Here's how:
1. Social Interaction Difficulties
Feeding is a social experience from infancy. From the start, typically developing babies learn behaviors such as leaning in towards the caregiver and opening their mouths. When this social component doesn't develop or is delayed, feeding can be impacted. Further, it may be challenging or aversive for a child with ASD to participate in the social aspects of feeding. For example, there are many social components to sitting down at snack time or the school cafeteria. If those components are challenging, mealtimes may be negatively impacted.
What can we do?
Look at the entire picture. The social skills required to participate in a mealtime can be thought of as a prerequisite. If a child doesn't even want to sit down with peers at snack time or with the family at dinner time, the actual eating part is bound to be affected. Work on one step of the equation at a time.
2. Language and Communication Difficulties
ASD is also associated with difficulties in communication, which can have a big impact on mealtime behaviors. Effective communication is so important for a successful mealtime. Children communicate their needs and desires throughout a mealtime: "I want more of that," "I don't like the taste of this," "I'm hungry," "I'm full," and so on. So, you can imagine how not being able to effectively communicate these things can lead to challenging behaviors during meals. The child that can't communicate that he's all done and keeps being offered food is bound to cry, scream, throw food, etc.
What can we do?
Give children a way to communicate their needs effectively. For a child that is nonverbal, it may be providing a photo to show that he is all done, or a sign to request "more." I'll devote a post to this in the future.
3. Behavior Challenges
The final core symptom associated with ASD is behavioral challenges. In regards to feeding, here are some common ones that can have a big impact:
Ritualistic behaviors/need for routine: the child needs to eat the same food in the same environment (same spot at the table, food presented on the same plate, with the same silverware, etc.).
Attention to detail: children may refuse food based on what seem like minute details to us. For example, I've worked with multiple children that wouldn't eat food that was broken or that was presented outside of a wrapper.
Sensory difficulties: This is where texture difficulties come into play. Many children with ASD will refuse entire groups of textures. For example, a child might only eat foods that are crunchy but avoid anything that feels "mushy" in the mouth.
What can we do?
Introduce change in gradual steps. Show the child that change can be associated with positive outcomes. For example, you might just change spots at the table and really praise flexibility with trying something new. Make simple changes before you do anything about the food. I'll talk more about how to do this in future posts, as well.
The literature tells us that feeding challenges in children with ASD tend to be more prevalent, more restrictive, and longer lasting than what we might see in a "typical picky eater." The most important implication is to act early! As soon as you notice challenges, intervene. Waiting for a child to "grow out of it" will only cause stress and bigger problems down the road. Stay tuned for coming posts with more information about simple interventions you can implement!
Many studies have shown that children aren't getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables per day. I created this fruit and veggie chart (based on recommended servings for young children) as a simple strategy to use in my home and thought I'd share it with you! Here's why this could work to up fruit and veggie consumption in your children:
1. It serves as a visual to show them how much they have left to eat in the day. You can choose to pair it with a daily or weekly reward for meeting the goals.
2. Tracking progress makes us more aware of what we are eating and more likely to up consumption.
3. Using this might keep you, the parent or caregiver, more accountable. Research shows us that children eat more fruits and vegetables if their parents do. It's hard to expect them to eat more if we aren't leading by example. So, model using the chart yourself by eating the foods you want your child to eat and checking them off the chart!
To use it, we pick a color for each family member using it and do a check mark for every food consumed that day. Use it however works for you or simply use the idea for foods you're working on in your home! Download by clicking on the file below.