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“This corn on the cob is so delicious!” Liam’s mom said excitedly.
It was a barbecue night at Liam’s house. As a picky eater, he usually looked forward to hot dogs, chips and mac and cheese, but tonight his parents brought fresh corn on the cob home to grill. Liam really couldn’t stand the sound of his family munching on corn.
“Liam, just try some corn. Fresh corn in the summer like this is a special treat!” His dad tried to persuade him.
Liam could barely be in the same room with everyone eating their corn so loudly, so there was no way he would be able to try it. All he could focus on was the crunching and slurping sounds of the corn. For a picky eater like Liam who is sensitive to sounds, it was so distracting that he wasn’t able to eat much of his favorite foods the entire evening.
We know that tricky food situations like this come up when your child is selective. Reversing picky eating is a process that takes time, and we’re here to help you through the journey. Here are our top tips to help you teach your child to eat corn. You’ll learn:
- The benefits of corn for kids
- How to serve corn to picky eaters
- How to talk about corn to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what corn does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with corn
The Benefits of Corn for Kids
Corn is special because it has different benefits depending on how it is prepared. Popped corn, for example, has a good variety of necessary minerals for kids, including zinc. Zinc is important for supporting kids’ metabolism, digestion and nerve function.
Sweet corn, on the other hand, prepared on the cob or in niblets or kernels, boasts fair amounts of potassium, which is essential for maintaining good muscle function in our kiddo’s bodies.
Most notably, corn provides a decent amount of insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber works to add density to stool in order to help it pass faster and easier through the stomach and intestines. It’s a great option for our little ones to aid in bulking up loose bowel movements.
Since corn is such a nutritious and versatile food that contains fiber and a variety of vitamins and minerals, it isn’t hard to understand why Liam’s parents were trying to get him to eat it. They could use support and new, effective strategies to help Liam work through his picky eating.
How to Serve Corn to Picky Eaters
Corn can be purchased raw, canned or frozen. It is commonly served cooked on the cob or in niblets or kernels. The niblets can be added to mixed dishes like corn salads or salsa. Varying the way you serve foods to picky eaters can prevent them from getting stuck in a rut.
We recommend serving new foods to picky eaters in micro portions. Micro portions are small, pea-sized servings that are less overwhelming to selective children than adult-sized servings. For a selective and sensitive child like Liam, instead of serving a whole corn on the cob, you could try offering one small kernel of corn. Once he gets used to kernels of corn, you can start to offer a cut piece on the cob, and gradually work up to larger pieces of corn.
Finally, when you’re serving any food to a child, we strongly suggest that you don’t put pressure on them to eat. Liam’s parents tried to make him eat corn by calling it “delicious” and “a special treat.” They didn’t realize their good intentions added pressure on top of the intense sensory situation Liam was already experiencing because of the sounds of everyone chewing their corn.
There are lots of ways a parent may unintentionally pressure a child to eat. Here are a few examples:
“I love to eat this and you should too!”
“Your cousin likes to eat corn. Can you be more like your cousin?”
“If you don’t try the corn, movie night is cancelled.”
Removing pressure from mealtimes is an essential foundation for helping your child learn to like a new food on their terms.
How to Talk About Corn to Help Your Child Eat It
Picky kids often use negative language around food at mealtime. “This is nasty!” “It sounds too crunchy.” “The bumps feel weird.” This negative language only contributes to their picky eating habits. It makes it harder for them to learn to try a new food when they are thinking negatively about it all the time.
Here is something easy you can do today. Find new words to describe foods in your home. You can help your child to use the new words by modeling the behavior through your own actions. Do this by using a wide assortment of neutral terms when speaking about foods or meals. These words won’t be positive or negative.
If you use positive words, a picky eater may think you are only saying good things about the food as a way to trick them into trying it. It won’t work, and could make them more resistant to trying it ever again! Negative words will definitely won’t convince your picky eater to eat it either. Neutral words will help your child think differently about foods, which gives them the potential to learn to try it over time.
Changing the way you talk about food with your child won’t make them try corn tomorrow. This is an important part of our strategy to help your child learn to accept corn in the long term.
Here are some words you can use to describe corn to your selective eater:
- Sweet smell
- Smooth (niblets)
- Bumpy (on the cob)
- Small (niblets)
- Big (on the cob)
- Loud noise (when eating it off the cob)
If Liam’s parents had known how to swap out their positive or negative terms, they may have chosen to say, “This is corn on the cob. It is yellow, bumpy and sweet.”
How to Help Your Child Understand What Corn Does in Their Bodies
How we speak about foods with children, particularly picky eaters, can make it more or less difficult for them to try new foods. For example, if you say, “This food is really good for you,” your child may decide they don’t want to eat it before they even try it, simply because you said it was “good.”
Trying to convince a child like Liam that he needs to eat corn usually doesn’t end well. Instead, you can start to talk about what 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 something in their body.
Is this going to magically make them try something new? Probably not. This is another step in your child learning to try a new food.
Here are some messages for corn. You can come up with your own as well!
Age 0-3: Corn helps give your muscles power!
Age 3-5: Corn has what your body needs to power your muscles and keep them strong.
Age 6-11: Corn has something called potassium. Potassium is very important for keeping your muscles working properly.
Age 12-18: Corn has a mineral called potassium. Potassium keeps your muscle functions working correctly by ensuring proper muscle contraction.
It’s possible that by giving Liam more information about corn, his parents could help him get used to the idea of eating it one day. They may have tried saying, “Corn has potassium, which is important for giving your muscles power!”
Corn Food Play Activity
Food play is a crucial part of helping your picky eater get used to new foods. When kids see, feel, hear, smell, and eventually taste a new food, it becomes more possible for them to like it.
The goal with food play activities is to desensitize the body’s sensory system. When a sense is new to the brain, the brain may identify it as a danger which could trigger the fight or flight system. “Desensitize” means that your child’s body becomes more used to the food. Then, when they are with the food, your picky eater doesn’t find it to be that sticky, that smelly, or that loud. Once your child’s body and brain gets used to the food, they have the ability to taste it.
You don’t have to go all-out with food activities. They can be as simple as peeling a root vegetable. If you want to put more energy into it, they can also be more fun and exciting!
Corn activities won’t make your picky eater suddenly realize they like corn. This is a process that may take a lot of time. Picky eaters must experience the many stages of being with corn to learn more about it. This includes smelling, touching, hearing, tasting, and more. Start small with looking and hearing activities for more selective children and work up to bigger activities for smelling and touching.
We put a fun food play activity with corn below for you. If you try it out and want more food activity ideas broken down by age of child (0 to 10-years-old) and stage of learning to like new foods, you may enjoy our food activities guide: Food Play Every Day.
If your child won’t eat corn like Liam, you could try this activity to help them learn to eat corn.
Activity name: Corn Shucking
Age group: 5-12
- Unshucked corn on the cob
- Cooked & cooled corn on the cob
- Newspaper (optional)
- Book about corn (optional)
- Lay out some newspaper on a table and place the unshucked corn cob on top. You can also do this outside to avoid using newspapers.
- Tell your child about how corn is protected by the outer leaves, which is called a husk. Explain that you can peel off the husk like a banana to reveal the yellow corn inside. This may be a good time to get a book from the library about corn.
- Set a timer to see how long it takes them to shuck a whole corn!
- Discuss the differences between the cooked corn and the raw corn. What is corn like inside the husk and what it is like after it is shucked? This is a good chance to use neutral words to describe the corn.
- When you’re done, you can boil the raw corn for a meal or keep in the fridge. For picky eaters, start by cutting it off of the cob for them if they aren’t ready to take bites off of the cob yet.
Tip: Children under 5 may not be able to shuck the corn independently. You can adapt this activity for younger children by modeling shucking the corn or having them peel a layer at a time while you hold it.
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.
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
Arnarson, Atli. “Corn 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits.” Healthline, May 16, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/corn.
Kubala, Jillian. “Zinc: Everything You Need to Know.” Healthline, November 14, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/zinc.
“Eating a High-Fiber Diet.” Fairview Health Services. Accessed July 29, 2021. https://www.fairview.org/patient-education/83063.
“Soluble vs. Insoluble Fiber.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002136.htm.
Cherry, Kendra. “How the Fight or Flight Response Works.” Edited by Steven Gans. The American Institute of Stress, August 21, 2019. https://www.stress.org/how-the-fight-or-flight-response-works.
Terpstra, Caitlin. “Corn: A Versatile, Nutritious Choice.” Mayo Clinic Health System, August 5, 2021. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/corn-a-versatile-nutrition-choice.