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Rachel’s mom really loved garlic. It reminded her of her childhood and the meals that her mother used to cook for her. After becoming a mother herself, she wanted to share her favorite meals with her own daughter. The problem was, Rachel was a picky eater, and she didn’t like anything that even remotely smelled like garlic.
One evening during dinner, her mom had become so fed up with her picky eating, she shouted, “Just smell this garlic! It doesn’t smell yucky. It smells good!”
Rachel refused to smell the garlic, and both of them were stressed for the rest of the evening.
For those of us who are in charge of feeding our families, we sometimes miss out on cooking our favorite meals because our picky eaters refuse to try them. If you want to incorporate garlic into your meals as Rachel’s mom does, you need our step-by-step process to help your picky eater learn to like it.
Remember, reversing picky eating is a long-term process. Our goal is to help you do that! Here’s our manual to help you teach your child to eat garlic. You’ll learn:
- How to serve garlic to picky eaters
- The benefits of garlic for kids
- How to talk about garlic to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what garlic does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with garlic
How to Serve Garlic to Picky Eaters
When serving any food to a child, we do not recommend you pressure the child to eat it. Think back to Rachel’s situation. Her mom tried to make her smell the garlic when she wasn’t ready for such a strong smell yet. Once Rachel felt that pressure, she became upset and more resistant to accepting the smell.
There are lots of ways to pressure a child to eat. Here are a few examples:
“You can have dessert when you eat your carrots.”
“If you take another bite, I will let you watch an extra hour of TV.”
“You have to stay at the table until you finish your plate.”
Taking the pressure off and letting your child learn to like a new food at their own pace can be a great way to help your picky eater get comfortable with new foods.
The Benefits of Garlic for Kids
Garlic has vitamin C, among other essential nutrients. Vitamin C is an antioxidant that does a few things in the body, like helping to heal wounds. It also aids in the absorption of iron which assists the immune system in protecting the body from disease.
Rachel’s grandmother used garlic a lot in her cooking and served it to Rachel’s mom often. She must have been aware of the many benefits that garlic has for children! It isn’t surprising that Rachel’s mom wants her own daughter to reap these benefits as well!
How to Talk About Garlic to Help Your Child Try It
Picky kids often lean into negative language surrounding unfamiliar foods. “This smells horrible!” “I will NEVER try this!” “That looks like poo.” This negative language only encourages picky eating behaviors. It makes it harder for children to learn how to try a new food.
Here is the positive. As the adult, you can teach your child new words to use! You can help your child adopt these new words through your own actions. This is called modeling. Modeling words that are neither negative nor positive will help your child think about new foods on neutral terms.
When you use positive phrases about food, a picky eater may believe you are trying to fool them into eating it. If you use negative words, your picky eater will associate that negativity with the food and they definitely won’t try it. Neutral words allow your child to understand that they might learn to like a food in the future.
Changing the way you speak about food won’t make your child try garlic immediately. However, it is a crucial part of our strategy in getting your child to like garlic over time.
Here are some words you can use to describe garlic to your selective eater:
- Big flavor
- Strong smell
Sitting down at the table with Rachel, her mom could have said, “This garlic has a strong smell,” instead of focusing on how good that garlic smelled.
How to Help Your Child Understand What Garlic Does in Their Body
The way we discuss foods with our kids (especially picky eaters) impacts how challenging it will be for them to try a new food. Here’s an example. If you were to say, “garlic is nutritious for you,” your child may decide they don’t want to eat it before they even try it.
Trying to convince a child like Rachel that she needs to eat garlic usually doesn’t end well. Instead, you can consider talking about what garlic does in your child’s body as it comes up.
The goal is to share information that children can understand. At the same time, we want to help them make the connection that food does things inside their bodies.
Is this going to instantly inspire them to try something new? Sometimes, but not usually. This is just another step in your child’s process of learning to try new foods.
Here are some messages for garlic. You can come up with your own as well!
Age 0-3: Garlic helps your body heal boo-boos.
Age 3-5: Garlic helps your body heal cuts and fight sickness.
Age 6-11: Garlic has vitamin C, which helps protect your body from diseases.
Age 12-18: Garlic has vitamin C, which helps your body absorb the iron in other foods. This process aids the immune system in preventing diseases.
Garlic Food Play Activity
Food activities can help kids try new foods. Learning through play is key for children, and foods are no exception! When kids 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 may automatically view it as a danger and may trigger the fight or flight system. Food activities can help diminish this “danger factor” and make the unfamiliar more familiar. “Desensitize” means that your child’s body becomes more used to the food. That way, when your kid is interacting with it, it doesn’t seem as fragrant, as gooey, or as bitter. When your child’s body and brain is used to the food, they can learn to taste it. They just may learn to like it as well.
Food play can be as simple as having your child help prepare food with you. It can also be more fun and exciting if you want to put more effort into it..
These activities aren’t going to convince your child to like garlic overnight. This is a process that may take a lot of time. Children have to go through many stages of interacting with garlic, including looking at it, smelling it, touching it, tasting it and more. For kids that are more nervous or more picky, start small with looking and smelling activities and work up to bigger activities like touching and tasting.
Below, you will find a fun garlic activity for the whole family! If you need more food play ideas broken down by age of child (0 to 10-years-old) and their stage of learning, you may enjoy our food activities guide: Food Play Every Day.
Here is a garlic activity that Rachel’s mom could do to help her learn to like garlic.
Magic Garlic Shake and Peel
Age: All ages
- 1 head of garlic
- 1 tupperware container with lid (per person)
- Separate the garlic cloves from the head of the garlic.
- Give each person a tupperware container with a lid and place 2-3 cloves of garlic inside. Take the opportunity to talk about what the garlic looks like before you cover the container with the lid.
- Set a timer for 20 seconds and shake the container as fast as you can! After 20 seconds, reveal your magically peeled garlic cloves.
- Describe what you see in neutral terms. Talk about what the garlic looks like now that it has been shaken up. Example: the garlic looks white, smells strong, etc. If your child is comfortable, invite them to grab it with tongs, chopsticks or gloves.
- Use the garlic in a recipe right away, or place back into a container and store in the fridge for future use.
Tip: Once your child is used to this activity, you may decide to move up to another level of interaction by smashing the garlic out of its peel with a kitchen tool, or peeling it by hand.
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