Kids can be picky eaters. Every parent knows the difficulty of trying to get their child to try new foods. A lot of children won’t stray too far from chicken tenders and French fries. But as a parent you want your child’s diet to be made up of a nice variety of natural and whole foods. The body needs a lot of different nutrients, and the best way to get them is from a well-balanced diet.
So, how do you get your picky eater to try new things? This is where one of the principles of mindfulness comes in. When practicing mindfulness, you focus on the senses and fully experience everything you see, hear, touch, smell and taste. Observe these things without judgement. So, it’s simply "This is sour,” not "I don’t like this.” You can use this idea to your advantage a few different ways. Here’s how.
Next time you’re in the produce section of the grocery store, invite your child to join you in selecting different kinds of produce. Grab a fruit or vegetable that they have never had before or that they won’t try. Make observations together. Feel the texture of its skin or its leaves. Listen for the sound it makes when you rub it, shake it, or thump it. Look at its bright colors or odd shape. And don't be afraid to give it a good smell. Take turns describing what you’re experiencing. After exciting these four senses, your child is more likely to have an interest in discovering that fifth sense of taste.
While preparing a meal, invite your child to join you. As the two of you prepare the meal, take time to observe and enjoy the way your senses are involved. Listen to the sound of a sauce simmering or carrots being chopped. Look at how beautiful a salad is or how artistic a plate presentation can be. Notice how wonderful the kitchen begins to smell. Feel the sensation of cutting through a bell pepper—under close adult supervision, of course—or of grabbing a handful of rice before it’s cooked. Taste the ingredients you use, and see how the flavors change as you add different things. Getting children’s senses involved like this and making them a part of the cooking process will make them much more excited to try new things.
Make mindfulness a game. Have your child taste and smell a spice or herb you’re going to use in one of the parts of the meal. Then, see if he can tell which part of the meal you used it in. Or have your child taste the different ingredients you are using, and see if they can determine whether the ingredient is sweet, sour, bitter, or salty (or umami, if you’re up for the challenge). Play a guessing game by blindfolding your child and letting them touch, smell, hear, and taste a fruit or vegetable. Then, see if they can guess what it is.
Whether mindfulness is something you practice in all aspects of your life or not, the principle of opening up the senses is a useful tool when it comes to exploring new and unusual foods. When you introduce your child to the way different foods affect the senses, you spark their curiosity. This curiosity can lead to a desire to try new things, and will make eating a more enjoyable experience. The more a child enjoys eating a variety of foods, the healthier that child will be.
Justin Noble is a certified nutrition coach. He and his wife Le-Anne are co-authors of the My Body Village series and co-creators of the Vita-Men.