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Keisha takes one look at her plate, notices the baked chicken and rice with a side of carrots, and pushes it away. This would mark her second encounter with carrots. She did not like them. Her parents were making another attempt to get her to eat carrots.
“They look like fingers! They are loud and it’s scary!” Keisha says to her mom.
“You’re just being dramatic,” her mom says. “Give them a try. You didn’t try them last time, but I won’t budge this time.” Her mom pushes the plate back towards Keisha.
Keisha grabs the plate and flips it over.
Does this situation sound familiar? Keisha is showing signs of picky eating. Like many parents, her mom has been growing increasingly frustrated. We know this feeling and we want to help!
Read on to learn how to help teach your child to eat carrots. This article covers:
- The benefits of carrots for children
- How to serve carrots to picky eaters
- How to talk about carrots to help your child try them
- How to help your child understand what carrots do in their bodies
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with carrots
The Benefits of Carrots for Kids
Carrots contain potassium. Potassium is important in blood pressure regulation by helping your child’s blood flow. Blood flow is important for moving nutrients throughout the body.
Carrots also provide protective effects on immune function, immune health and cardiovascular health via its vitamin B6 content. A child’s immune system is developing and vitamin B6 is a great way to assist with proper function.
Considering the wide variety of health benefits that carrots offer children, getting kids and toddlers to eat carrots is a good thing!
How to Serve Carrots to Picky Eaters
Carrots can be integrated into a lot of meals and snacks. An easy way to incorporate carrots into your child’s regular diet can include serving raw carrots on a vegetable platter or tossing chopped carrots into a salad. These options also make it easy for a child to remove them if they want to.
Another fun way to serve carrots is with your child’s favorite dip, like hummus or ranch dressing. These combinations can be easily packaged to enjoy when on the go.
If your child is really on edge about giving a food a try, consider serving micro portions. Micro portions are really small portions, similar to the size of a nickel or dime. This is meant to take away some of the intimidation a child may feel with a larger portion size. Micro portions also help avoid food waste because you’ll only serve more when your child asks for more.
What we do NOT recommend is the use of pressure to get a child to eat. Pressure tends to create more issues and problems at the table because it can quickly turn a neutral situation into an emotionally charged situation.
Parents can inflict pressure in different ways that seem harmless. Here are some examples that count as pressure:
“It’s not that much food.”
“If you take that food off your plate you are in big trouble!”
“If you only push the food around on your plate, you wont get dessert.”
Please note: Carrots can be a choking hazard, so cut into matchstick-sized pieces for kids under age 4.
How to Talk About Carrots to Help Your Child Try Them
How you approach talking about food impacts your child’s view of food. When talking about food to your child, we recommend the use of neutral words. Neutral words describe the food as it is, without judgement and without invoking a particular emotion towards the food being discussed. Neutral words describe the characteristics of the food.
Here are some neutral words you can use when explaining carrots to kids:
- Wet (baby carrots)
This use of neutral words is important because picky eaters have a tendency to use negative words and phrases when talking about food. You may have heard your fussy eater say things such as “that looks funny” or “that smells weird.” When picky eaters use negative language, it can prevent them from trying new foods. To get your child to speak more objectively about food, try modeling this strategy for them. Modeling is the process of showing a child a behavior that you want them to mirror or model themselves.
Keisha may not have known other words to describe the carrots being served to her. This would be a great opportunity for her mother to try to incorporate new words. Her mother could have said, “Carrots are orange and they have a big, crunchy sound when you bite into them!”
Please note, changing how a child talks about food is one of many steps involved in reversing picky eating. The process takes practice, patience and repetition.
How to Help Your Child Understand What Carrots Do in Their Body
Introducing a new food, like carrots, into your child’s diet can be difficult. We recommend talking to your child about what the food does in their bodies, so they can understand that there’s a connection between the food they eat and how their bodies feel.
A child may respond better to new or unfamiliar foods if they have a little more understanding of why it’s on the plate. You can encourage the child to ask questions about the new food as well.
Here are some age-appropriate things you can say to help your child learn about what carrots do in their body:
Age 0-3: Orange foods like carrots help your body grow strong.
Age 3-5: Carrots help our blood move inside our body and go where it is needed.
Age 6-11: Carrots have potassium, which helps our hearts pump nutrients all over our bodies through our blood.
Age 12-18: Carrots have potassium, which helps our heart pump blood through our arteries and veins at appropriate rates.
Keisha’s mom could have explained, “Carrots help our heart pump blood around inside our bodies.”
Carrot Food Play Activity
We recommend using food play when possible to introduce your child to a new food. Food activities that have a no-pressure approach can be a great way to expose your child to a new food.
Food activities can also work to desensitize your child to a new food. Desensitization means that you take small steps to introduce a food to a child so that over time they can become more familiar with how the food may feel, smell, or even look like. It typically would involve tasting as the last stages of it, but all the steps leading to tasting (which could include looking at a food, touching the food and smelling the food) are very important. In practice, desensitization allows for food that could be very strong smelling to be a little less offensive with more and more exposures over time.
Here is a great food activity you can enjoy together! To see more food activities you can enjoy with your child, check out Food Play Every Day: 101+ Food Activities for Kids!
Carrot Stick Figures (Ages 5+)
- Baby carrots
- Toothpicks (with tips shaved down for safety)
- Steam carrots to soften them up.
- Build carrot stick figures with the toothpicks, or spell out words with the carrots. Be creative and have fun!
Thanks for being a part of our community that’s teaching kids to eat more foods!
About Kids Eat in Color
Kids Eat in Color gives parents the tools they need to teach their kids to eat veggies and try foods without a battle! From introducing new foods to a picky eater, to reducing meal-time stress, to taking off some of the burdens of meal planning, shopping, and cooking, we are here for parents.
Johane Filemon, MS, RDN, CLT
Alli Delozier, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Laura Petix, M.S., OTR/L
Erinn Jacobi, M.S., OTR/L
Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed
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