While picky eaters have the ability to drive us crazy, it helps to understand that there may be biological reasons why some children are more fussy and selective than others.
Some children taste bitter foods more acutely
Children are born with a dislike of bitter tasting foods - this is a protective mechanism against eating harmful foods (Liam and Menella 2002; Forestell 2017). However some children have a particular gene that cause them to taste bitter foods more acutely! This is particularly pronounced when introducing bitter tasting vegetables like broccoli and spinach.
Further to this fascinating research by Julie Menella, she looked into how differences in sensory taste perception affected the mother-child relationship. She found that children who had the bitter sensitive genotypes were perceived as more emotional by their mothers, if their mothers didn't have the bitter sensitive genotype.
This rang so true for me as I often will think my fussy eater is being overly dramatic when she declares broccoli as "too bitter or yucky".
All is not lost though, since through regular exposure to vegetables, our brain no longer perceives vegetables as negative or our receptors towards the bitter taste diminishes over time.
Think about the first time you tried black coffee or dark chocolate - that initial response was acutely bitter, however over time our brains learn to disregard this and we come to appreciate it and LOVE it (most of us anyway!)
The take home message here for me is that all children will dislike bitter tasting veggies initially, some will dislike it more than others but children can learn to like it through regular exposure.
There are of course many other reasons that children may reject veggies (sensory challenges being one of them), I will address this in upcoming blog posts so keep an eye out!
Ideas on how to make bitter tasting veggies more appealing for your fussy eater:
- Mask the taste by adding fat - steaming or roasting veggies and then adding lots of butter or a drizzle of olive oil will help to take off the bitter edge.
- Add a neutral sauce such as bechamel or cheese sauce over veggies. This is the way I learned to like broccoli and cauliflower and is a winner in our house!
- Let your child add their favourite dip for example cream cheese, ketchup or mayonnaise. There are no rules here!
- Let your child explore the veggie using all their senses (our Veggie Explorer Food Play kit guides will help you guide your child through sensory exploration)
- Going grocery shopping and picking two new veggies to explore for the week
- Helping in the kitchen (this doesn’t have to be complicated or messy), think grating carrots, chopping veggies with a child safe knife – here I encourage you to purchase a child safe knife that is sharp enough to cut food but not fingers (see our online store for KiddiKutter knives).
- Let your child serving veggies to siblings and parents
- Reading about or watching a video about how a particular vegetable is farmed
- Talking about what is interesting about the vegetable (the funnier and wackier the better!)
- Using vegetable cutter shapes to cut veggies into interesting shapes (see our online store for Fruit and Veggie cutters)
- Using a magnifying glass to examine the new food and talk about what it looks like
- Using tooth picks to build something interesting with a veggie
- A small amount (start with a tablespoon) of the veggie on your child’s plate with no pressure to eat
Leave us a comment and let us know what you think, we would love to hear from you!