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How to Help Your Child Learn to Eat Celery

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Becky loved spending Saturdays at her Nona’s house. They would eat together, laugh and read books all day long. This Saturday, after getting through a few chapters of Harry Potter together, her Nona put out a tray of celery and ranch dip for their snack. 

Immediately, Becky got nervous! You see, Becky is a picky eater. She didn’t know anything about celery except that it looked stringy and weird. She was so afraid it would taste yucky and feel funny in her mouth.

“I’m just not hungry today,” she told Nona. She didn’t want to upset her. 

“Oh, well, you must eat something!” Nona said. “Try some celery and dip. I got the ranch dip just for you because I know you love it so much!”  

Becky really wasn’t ready to try even a bite. She took a few pieces of celery and hid them in her sleeve so it looked like she had eaten it. She threw them away later and felt so guilty! But at least she didn’t have to disappoint her grandma.

We deeply understand the difficulties of feeding picky kids. In this guide, we help you teach your kid to eat celery. We’ll discuss:

Related: Join BetterBites – the best selling course for the families of picky eaters

The Benefits of Celery for Kids

Should your kid eat celery? Celery offers some important nutritional benefits for toddlers and kids. Celery is high in vitamin K, boasting 40% of the recommended daily value for adults in just 100 grams, and kids need even less! Vitamin K  is essential for blood clotting and bone health, and other physiological functions.

Aside from having important vitamins, celery is good for kids because it’s actually 95% water. Some children don’t like to drink water, which can sometimes lead to a battle. Along with serving water to kids in a cup, try offering edible forms of water like celery! This can be very helpful for picky children who struggle with water intake. 

As celery is loaded with health benefits for children, it isn’t shocking that Nona was trying to get Becky to eat it. But like many caretakers, she was unsure how to actually get the kid to eat celery. 

Related: Need recipes with celery? Real Easy Weekdays: The Meal Plan for Busy Families

How to Serve Celery to Picky Eaters

Variety is key when introducing a new food to a picky eater. Luckily, celery is a vegetable that can be used in so many ways. Also, due to it’s light flavor, celery takes on the tastes of the meal you’re making. That makes it a great vegetable to work with if you are on a picky eating journey with your child. 

In raw form, celery can be served with dips like ranch to make it taste better to your child. It is also commonly added to chicken or tuna salad and sandwiches for some crunch. Spread nut butter in the well of a celery stick and top with sprinkles, chocolate chips or raisins for a cute snack. You can cook celery by chopping and adding it to soups, gumbos, stir-fries and sauce bases. Celery can also be juiced. 

One more thing to keep in mind when serving celery to children, or any unfamiliar food for that matter, is portion size. We recommend serving micro portions of new foods to your child while they are still in the “getting to know you” phase of their food relationship. We define a micro portion as a pea-sized piece of food. Just enough that if they did decide to try it, it would only be a taste. This is a lot less intimidating for restrictive eaters and it increases the likelihood that they will interact with it. 

A huge benefit of serving little portions of new foods to picky eaters is the lack of food waste. Instead of serving an entire snack of celery and peanut butter, try cutting a small sliver off of the celery stalk and serve it alongside a food you know your child likes. 

Maybe if Nona had put a small piece of celery on Becky’s plate alongside other veggies she liked, she would have been more inclined to try it.

Lastly, when you are enjoying the meal that you made with celery, try not to pressure your child to eat it. This can actually decrease the chance that your fussy eater will try it and could set you back from all that hard work you’ve done! Pressure can look like many different things. Here are some examples of what pressure might look like:

  • “If you don’t try one polite bite of celery, you can’t have any cookies.”
  • “I made this just for you. Don’t you even want to try a bite?”
  • “When you finish all your celery, you can get down from the table.”

When Nona mentioned that she bought ranch dressing just for Becky, she was unknowingly putting pressure on her to eat something she wasn’t ready to try. Her guilt even led her to hide food and throw it away later! If Nona knew about different ways to talk about celery, she may have been able to get Becky interested in it.

Related: Get our picky eater guide – From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better without Losing Your Mind

How to Talk About Celery to Help Your Child Try It

The way we talk about food with children is so important. Why? Because when we try to talk them into eating something by boasting about how “yummy” it is, selective eaters become more skeptical. Using overly positive language like that gets kids thinking you’re trying to fool them into trying something yucky. It won’t work. If we use derogatory language to describe food, they will automatically associate a bad feeling with it and that won’t help either! So what’s the solution?

Try keeping it neutral. If we can help fussy eaters speak neutrally about food, they could become more open-minded about it, and eventually learn to like it.

Don’t get us wrong, this is not a magic trick that makes your picky eater try celery! It is one step that you can start modeling today to help your child on the path to trying more foods. 

Here are some words you can use to describe celery to your selective eater: 

  • Green
  • Small taste
  • Smooth
  • Watery
  • Long
  • Small smell
  • Crunchy

Nona could have described celery to Becky by saying, “Celery is a new food for you. It is green and crunchy. It has a small taste.” This would give her some details about what to expect if she did want to try biting into a piece. 

How to Help Your Child Understand What Celery Does in Their Body

Have you ever been so desperate to get your picky eater to try something that you just kept attempting to convince them to eat it? Maybe you’ve bargained with them or told them that the food is healthy so that’s why they should try it. This is almost always a wasted effort. The thing is, kids generally need more information in order to understand what “healthy” means. When they don’t understand, it makes it difficult for them to care enough to try something new. 

We can talk about how foods have an effect on our bodies. When we do this, we help children understand the connection between what we eat and how we feel. You can do this in your home by finding age-appropriate ways to teach your child about a food like celery. 

We’ve made it easy for you below with an age breakdown of messages to give to your child about celery:

Age 0-3: Green foods help boo-boos feel better.

Age 3-5: Celery helps your body heal cuts.

Age 6-11: Celery has vitamin K, which helps cuts stop bleeding by making scabs.

Age 12-18:  Celery has vitamin K, which helps your body clot your blood and build stronger bones.  

Becky may have found some of these facts about celery interesting enough to try it. Next time Nona might say “Celery has vitamin K, which helps to make scabs when you get a bad cut. Like the time you tripped on the stairs and got a scrape!”

Celery Food Activity 

Food play activities are a beneficial way for kids to have fun while they learn how to interact with new foods. When picky eaters look at, touch, smell, and eventually taste a new food, they may be learning to like it. 

When your child partakes in a food play activity, they are actually desensitizing their body’s sensory system. When the brain experiences a new sense, it could automatically perceive it as a danger and trigger the fight or flight system. By doing food play, when that food shows up again in an eating environment, it isn’t new to them and becomes more acceptable. When your child’s body and brain get more used to an unfamiliar food, they could learn to try it. Then, enjoying the food becomes possible.

Food activities can be as easy as letting your fussy eater assist while you make a meal in the kitchen. If you have the time or energy for it – go all out and make it more complex!

Don’t expect activities by themselves to get your child to like celery. This process can take a long time, but don’t give up! Picky eaters must go through many stages of being with celery, including looking at it, smelling it, tasting it and touching it, in order to learn to accept it. Start small with looking and smelling activities, then work up to more hands-on activities like touching and tasting the food.

We’ve crafted a super fun food play activity to help get your child to try celery, but if you’re craving more, you may want to check out Food Play Every Day: 102+ Food Play Activities for Kids.

Beach Play Scene

Age: 2-6

Materials

  • 1 cup dry cereal
  • Zip-top bag
  • Celery stalk
  • Plate
  • Yogurt, optional
  • Blue food coloring, optional
  • Peanut butter, optional

Steps

  1. Place 1 cup of dry cereal into the zip-top bag. Remove all the air from the bag and then close it tightly.
  2. Using your fist, a rolling pin or anything on hand, crush the cereal into a fine, sand-like powder. This will act as the sand for your beach scene.
  3. If using the optional ingredients, mix together the yogurt and blue food coloring together until it becomes blue. Spread some on one side of the plate to make the ocean.
  4. If using peanut butter (as “wet sand”) spread a thin layer right up against the edge of the “ocean.”
  5. Pour the dry cereal “sand” on the other side of the plate, this will be the base for the beach scene.
  6. Cut 1 celery stalk into 3 different-sized pieces. Use the celery as scoopers to play in the beach scene. If there are leaves, you can rip a few off to make boats in the water.
  7. Model scooping, pouring, and mixing the elements together. Draw letters or numbers in the sand and let your child’s imagination lead!

For variations and more ideas, get Food Play Every Day: 102+ Food Activities for Kids!

Thanks for Being 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. 

Author

Alysha Fagan

Reviewers

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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“Preschooler Development.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002013.htm.

Robbins, Ocean. “Celery Health Benefits and Recipes.” Food Revolution Network, August 4, 2021. https://foodrevolution.org/blog/celery-health-benefits/

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Alysha Fagan

Alysha is the Program Manager for Kids Eat in Color. She leads initiatives and creates content to helps caregivers reduce stress and help their kids thrive at mealtime. Prior to joining Kids Eat in Color, Alysha project managed and built high-performance Customer Service teams for Top corporations. She is currently working towards a political science degree to fulfill her passion of advocating for systemic change in government. She enjoys being a mom, lifting weights (you heard that right!), and writing

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