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“McKenzie, don’t be rude. Please take one polite bite of the chicken that was made for you,” her dad said during lunch at a group playdate.
“No way. I am not taking a single bite of THAT STUFF,“ Mckenzie replied.
“She is SUCH a picky eater. She won’t even eat chicken nuggets! What kid doesn’t eat chicken nuggets?!” he exclaimed.
He wasn’t looking for advice, but all the parents could relate. If he had asked how to help his picky eater try chicken, a friend may have told him the information in this guide.
Feeding kids can be tricky. Reversing picky eating is a long-term process, and we’re here to help you do that! Here’s our manual to help you teach your child to eat chicken. You’ll learn:
- How to serve chicken to picky eaters
- The benefits of chicken for kids
- How to talk about chicken to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what chicken does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater get more comfortable with chicken
How to Serve Chicken to Picky Eaters
When you’re serving any food to a child, we recommend you do not place pressure on the child to eat it. Think back to McKenzie’s dad. At the playdate, he mentioned taking “one polite bite” of the food that was served. He didn’t know it, but he was pressuring her to eat something she wasn’t ready to try yet.
It is important to understand that chicken, like other foods, can have many different textures and can feel different inside the mouth. Each eating experience may offer different experiences. This inconsistency can be tough for picky eaters or children who are sensitive to these types of eating experiences. If McKenzie was having an especially emotional day, it may have impacted her willingness to try the chicken at lunch. Don’t be discouraged if your child tries chicken one day and refuses the next. Keep serving!
There are many ways a parent can pressure a child to eat. Here are a few examples:
“One more bite and you can have dessert.”
“Great job with that bite, now take another one!”
“You have to eat it or you won’t have tv after dinner.”
Taking the pressure off can be a great way to help your child learn to like a new food at their own pace.
The Benefits of Chicken for Kids
Chicken is a great food to support growth in kids. One reason is because it is high in protein. This is important for children because it contributes to the growth of many parts of their bodies, such as their immune system, brain, bones and muscles.
In addition, chicken offers vitamin A to children. We love vitamin A because it promotes eye health and, just like protein, growth.
With all of these benefits in mind, it is understandable that McKenzie’s dad wanted her to eat the chicken during the playdate.
How to Talk About Chicken to Help Your Child Try it
When a new food is presented to a kid, they are typically drawn to negative words. “This is nasty!” “No way I am eating THAT!” This negative language causes their pickiness to stay at the forefront of their minds. It makes it more difficult to learn to try a new food.
Don’t be discouraged–there is good news! You can give them new words to think about by modeling the use of neutral terms. They aren’t positive, nor are they negative.
If you use positive words, a picky eater may think you are trying to trick them into eating the new food. If you use negative words, your picky eater will absolutely not want to eat it. Neutral words are the key to helping your child understand they could learn to like a food in the future.
Speaking about food differently won’t make your child try chicken tomorrow. However, it is an important part of our strategy to help your child learn to like chicken in the long run.
Here are some words you can use to describe chicken to your selective eater:
- Big flavor
Thinking back to McKenzie’s dad, he could have said, “The chicken is crispy,” to keep things neutral.
How to Talk to Kids About What Chicken Does in Their Body
How we talk about foods with picky kids (or any kids!) can really impact whether or not they actually try a new food. For example, if you say, “This food is a good food,” your child may decide they don’t want to eat it before they even try it, just because YOU said it was good.
Attempting to persuade a child like McKenzie to eat chicken because it’s good for her usually doesn’t end well. Like McKenzie, they may simply refuse. Instead, choose to talk about what the foods do in your child’s body.
We want to share information that a child can understand. We also want to help them make the connection that food does things in their body.
Will this alone lead your child to instantly try something new? Probably not. This is just one step in your child’s process of learning to try a new food.
Here are some phrases you can use when talking to picky eaters about chicken. You can come up with your own as well!
Age 0-3: Brown foods like chicken help to make you strong.
Age 3-5: Chicken gives your body power that helps your muscles get stronger.
Age 6-11: Chicken has a nutrient called protein, which helps you grow taller and gives your bones and muscles their strength.
Age 12-18: There is an amino acid in chicken called tryptophan which raises the serotonin levels in your brain that make you happy.
At the lunchtime playdate, McKenzie’s father could have chosen to say, “Chicken has protein which helps your muscles grow strong.”
Chicken Food Play Activity
Activities with food help kids learn to try new foods. When children look at, touch, smell, and eventually taste a new food, they may be learning to like it.
Food activities also desensitize the body’s sensory system. When a sense is new to the brain, the brain automatically perceives it as a danger and may trigger the fight or flight system. Food activities can help decrease this “danger factor” and make the unfamiliar more familiar. “Desensitize” means that your child’s body becomes used to the food. That way, when your kid is interacting with the food, the food does not seem SO stinky, SO slippery, or SO tart. When your child’s body is used to the food, they can learn to taste it. They just may learn to like it as well.
Food play can be super simple, like having your child clear off the dishes into the garbage after a meal. They can also be more fun and exciting if you want to put more time into them.
Food activities aren’t going to make your picky eater learn to like chicken overnight. This is a process that may take a decent amount of time and effort. They have to go through many stages of interacting with chicken, including looking at it, smelling it, tasting it, touching it, and more. For kids who are more nervous or picky, start small with activities that encourage looking and smelling. Then, work up to bigger activities that include touching and tasting foods.
If you would like more food activity ideas broken down by age of child (0 to 10-years-old) and stage of learning, you may enjoy our food activities guide: Food Play Every Day.
Here is a chicken activity that McKenzie’s parents could do to help her learn to like chicken.
- Cooked boneless chicken breast or thighs
- 2 forks per person
- 1 bowl per person
- Provide each competitor with a bowl that has a piece of chicken in it and two forks.
- On the count of three, each person will use their two forks to shred the chicken breast as fast as possible.
- The person who shreds all of their chicken first, wins!
- When done, use the shredded chicken for a meal, refrigerate to use as quick lunch meat or freeze!
Note: If your child is preschool age or younger, try letting them win in order to create a positive association with the food. You can also change the activity to a “beat your time” challenge where you are competing against your previous time.
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.
Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN
Alli Delozier, PhD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Laura Petix, M.S., OTR/L
Erinn Jacobi, M.S., OTR/L
Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed