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Safia was excited to go out to a restaurant for her best friend’s birthday dinner. It had been so long since she had been out because she never liked the menu options. But because it was for a birthday, she and her mom looked at the menu ahead of time so Safia could find something to eat.
At the restaurant, Safia and her friends sat at one table, and the parents sat close by at another. Safia was having so much fun and before she realized it, the food was brought out. The dish that was placed before her was not what she had picked out with her mom! It was supposed to have chicken and rice, but this one also had dates!
Safia rushed to her mom and, as she spoke, began to cry. “Mom, they didn’t bring what I wanted. I can’t eat it. The date things look like bugs. Everything is ruined!”
In a panic, her mom responded, “Why don’t you just breathe and go sit back down? It’s your friend’s birthday. You don’t want to ruin it. Dates are good. Just try one.”
It didn’t help. Safia, feeling unsupported and pressured, continued to shout, and they had to step out of the restaurant.
Safia was expecting food she was comfortable eating. Her mother tried to remedy the situation and unintentionally upset her daughter more.
Feeding kids, especially picky eaters, can be tricky. Working to reverse picky eating is a long process, and we’re here to help you find success! Here is our guide to help you teach your child to eat dates. You’ll learn:
- How to serve dates to picky eaters
- The benefits of dates for children
- How to talk about dates to help your child try them
- How to help your child understand what dates do in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with dates
How to Serve Dates to Picky Eaters
Your picky eater may be like Safia, and have an adverse reaction towards dates. Getting picky eaters to try and eventually like a new food is a process that takes time.
To begin, varying the way you serve new foods can help your child learn to try them. Dried, pitted dates are often served whole, but they can be stuffed with other foods and spreads, like nut or seed butters. Naturally sweet, dates may also be used to sweeten your favorite recipes, like in energy balls, bars and oatmeal. (Our rotation meal plan, Real Easy Weekdays, features dates in the blueberry oatmeal recipe.)
Choking prevention information
As dates are chewy, they may be a choking hazard for young children. For babies and toddlers, buy pitted dates without the seed.
1️. Cut in 1/8s (and grind seeds & nuts) for age 1. Think half a pinky finger size.
2️. Quarter (and smash seeds & nuts) for age 2
3️. Half (or slivered nut pieces) for age 3
4️. Most kids are fine to eat unmodified food at or after age 4
Another thing to keep in mind when serving new foods to picky eaters is to offer micro portions, which are small, pea-sized servings. Small portions are less intimidating to children than adult-sized portions. Perhaps if Safia’s food had included a small, chopped piece of a date instead of whole dates, she wouldn’t have gotten so upset at the restaurant. She may even have been willing to try a piece.
Additionally, when serving fussy eaters (and all children, for that matter), we recommend that you avoid pressuring them to eat the food. While well-intended, pressuring kids will more than likely backfire. The child may even become a more selective eater. Here are some examples of what pressuring kids may look like:
“Safia, don’t be rude. You have to try the food that was served to you.”
“I know you want to eat the dessert later, but first, you have to eat what’s on your plate.”
“Someone took the time to make you this nice meal. At the very least, you could try it.”
Removing pressure from the situation could help Safia learn to try dates when she is ready.
The Benefits of Dates for Kids
Dates are the edible fruit from the date palm tree. Chinese dates are called jujubes. Dates are usually sold dried and come in a variety of colors, from bright red to bright yellow. Popular varieties of dates include Medjool and Deglet Nour.
Dates contain multiple vitamins and minerals, including potassium and calcium, and other helpful things like fiber. Potassium and calcium are minerals that support bone health. Fiber supports stomach and bowel health.
With so many health benefits of dates, it’s understandable that Safia’s mom wanted her to try them.
How to Talk About Dates to Help Your Child Try Them
Have you noticed that picky eaters use negative language when talking about the foods they don’t like? Picky eaters may say things like, “That’s disgusting” or “It looks so gross!” Even Safia thought the dates “looked like bugs.” Negative language does not help picky kids try new foods. In fact, in many cases, it prevents them from trying new foods and reinforces the picky behavior.
You can help your fussy eater by giving them different words to use. We encourage parents to use neutral words with their picky eaters. Neutral words are beneficial because they describe the characteristics of a food as it is without a bias.
Talking objectively today probably won’t get your child to eat dates tonight, but it can help motivate your child to try them when they are ready.
Here are some words that can help you describe dates to your selective child:
The next time Safia’s mother serves dates, she could say, “These are dates. They’re sweet, chewy and a little sticky.”
How to Help Your Child Understand What Dates Does in Their Body
The way we talk about food to kids, especially selective kids, can have long-term effects on them trying new foods. Safia wanted to enjoy her food at her friend’s birthday dinner, but she was repulsed by the dates. When her mom tried to convince her that she should just try one and not ruin the party, Safia got even more upset. Unfortunately, you can’t just talk a picky eater into eating something they don’t want to eat.
A more effective approach is to share information about the food that your picky eater can understand. This helps them learn about the food and make the connection to what the food does in their body.
Here are some ways you can talk to fussy eaters about dates:
Age 0-3: This is called a date. It helps us poop.
Age 3-5: Dates are dried fruits that help us poop more easily. They also make our bones strong.
Age 6-11: Dates have fiber, which helps our poop, or stool, stay soft. They also have potassium and calcium, which help our bones grow strong.
Age 12-18: Dates have soluble fiber, the type can be digested, which helps prevent and relieve constipation. The potassium and calcium found in dates also work in your body to maintain bone density.
Date Food Play Activity
Playing with food, which is known as food activities or food play, is another strategy you can implement right now to help your picky eater learn to try new foods. Food activities can include looking, touching, smelling, and, eventually, tasting a new food. Food activities can help your child learn to like a new food because it desensitizes the body’s sensory system. This means that your child gets familiar with a new food, preventing their brain from thinking of the new food as a danger. When a food is perceived as ‘dangerous,’ it could trigger the fight or flight system. When a picky eater is desensitized or more used to the food, it no longer “looks like bugs” or “feels so sticky.” Exposing your fussy child to new foods through food play opens up more opportunities for them to taste and learn to like new foods.
Food activities can be as simple as pointing to a food in the grocery store or having your little one help make a meal with you. While food activities may not change your child’s mind about dates today, they are a valuable and important part of the process. This will include more than a few exposures to dates. Does your child need to begin slowly by looking and smelling, or are they comfortable with touching and tasting? Wherever your child is now, you can work up to the stage where they will be ready to taste.
If you need 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.
Here is one example of a food activity with dates. You and your child are going to compare five dried fruits. Be sure to mention that this food activity is for having fun together. At first, your child might only be comfortable watching while you play with the food. If your child is feeling apprehensive, reassure your child that there is no pressure for them to play if they do not want to.
Dried Fruit Comparison
- Other dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, prunes and apricots)
- Table, muffin tin, sectioned plate (if you have one) or other clean surface
- Place dried fruits out on a table or in a muffin tin to compare them.
- With your child, talk about the differences and similarities between the fruits. This can include color, texture, shape, smell or feel.
- If desired, taste the dried fruits and compare flavors and textures.
- You can have your child finish the pattern. For example, you can lay out a raisin, then a cranberry, and then another raisin, and you can have your child duplicate the pattern.
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
Palacios, Cristina. “The Role of Nutrients in Bone Health, From A to Z.” Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2007. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17092827/.
Elliott, Brianna. “8 Proven Health Benefits of Dates.” Healthline. Healthline Media, March 21, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-dates.
Sass, Cynthia. “7 Reasons Dates Are so Good for You, According to a Nutritionist.” Health.com, September 9, 2020. https://www.health.com/nutrition/groceries/health-benefits-dates.