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This article was reviewed by a team of experts, including Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN. View full list of reviewers below.
“Momma is home, Owen! Put your dinosaurs away and come to wash your hands for dinner!”
Owen put away his toys and ran to the door, smiling, happy to see his Momma. Owen and his moms have dinner together every night. His Mimi was the best cook and was in charge of making most of their meals.
Mimi brought out a couple of bowls to serve the food. They had a main dish and a couple of sides. One of the bowls had something green, which smelled different than anything Owen had smelled before.
“Mimi, what’s that?” Owen asked, pointing to a bowl with sauteed zucchini.
Mimi replied, “Owen, this is zucchini. It’s so yummy. You’ll love it!”
Owen took a bite and said, “It smells funny, Mimi!”
Owen’s Mimi replied, “Owen, this is dinner and you have to eat it whether you like it or not! Just have another bite, you’ll realize it’s so good!”
As Owen was chewing, with squished zucchini halfway out his mouth, he cried, “I can’t, Mimi, it’s too mushy!” He pushed his plate away.
Do you have a picky eater who reacts the same way when encountering a food with a new texture? Or a child who simply refuses to try something new? We know how difficult it can be to manage this kind of picky eating. That’s why we put together this guide to help you learn how to get your kid to eat zucchini. In this article, we discuss:
- The benefits of zucchini for kids
- How to serve zucchini to picky eaters
- How to talk about zucchini to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what zucchini does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with zucchini
The Benefits of Zucchini for Kids
Zucchini is a type of squash and a member of the summer squash family. A fun zucchini fact for kids is that although we consider them vegetables, zucchinis are technically fruits!
They are really great for kids because they are filled with water and contain fiber. The water and fiber help kids stay regular and prevent constipation.
Zucchini has vitamin A, which supports eye and immune health. It also contains antioxidants, which help protect the cells in the body from damage. While cell damage is normal, the antioxidants can reverse the process.
How to Serve Zucchini to Picky Eaters
Getting your picky child to try zucchini may be challenging, but you are in luck because it can be served in many ways. Zucchini can be grilled, baked, put in soups or stews, added to smoothies, or served hot or cold. When serving zucchini to your picky eater, it will be helpful for them to try it through multiple exposures. The more opportunities picky kids have to try zucchini, the better.
When serving your kid or toddler zucchini, give them a micro portion. A micro portion is a very small serving. Picky children may feel overwhelmed if given a regular portion of a new food and they are less likely to try it. A micro portion allows your child the opportunity to try zucchini when they are ready. Plus, serving a micro portion will cut down on food waste if your child decides not to eat the zucchini.
Another strategy to use when serving zucchini to selective eaters is to do so without pressuring them to try it. When Owen’s Mimi offered him zucchini and he refused, Mimi pressured him by telling him he had to eat it. The added pressure backfired, and Owen pushed his plate away.
Pressure at mealtimes can also sound like:
“Owen, you can’t leave the table until you take a bite of everything, including the zucchini.”
“Finish your zucchini. Then you can play with your toys!”
“I’ll make you something else to eat if you try the zucchini.”
Removing pressure can help our children decide if they want to try the new food. Letting fussy eaters try foods when they feel ready can actually help them like new foods.
The next time Mimi fixes zucchini, she can give Owen a micro portion and allow him to choose if he would like to try it.
How to Talk About Zucchini to Help Your Child Try It
Picky eaters use negative language to talk about foods they aren’t familiar with and foods they don’t like. If zucchini is a new food for your child or toddler, they are more likely to say it is “too squishy” or that it “feels weird” when they chew a piece. For selective eaters, this language reinforces their negative feelings about the food.
The good news is kids learn new things every day, and you can teach them a new way to talk about zucchini. Instead of using negative language, model how to talk about zucchini in a neutral and objective way. Modeling is a technique where your kids learn something new by watching you do it and then copying you.
Having your picky child use neutral language when talking about food is so important because it helps change the way they think about it. This strategy does take time so you won’t see drastic results overnight, but stick with it!
Here are some words you can start using at home to describe zucchini to your picky eater:
- Green outside, light color inside
- Mild sweet
- Medium smell
- Small sound
To get her kid to eat zucchini, Mimi can talk to Owen about the squash and tell him it is a soft vegetable that makes a small sound when you eat it.
How to Help Your Child Understand What Zucchini Does in Their Body
Owen’s Mimi tried to convince him to eat zucchini, and that did not work out. This is what happens with most kids when we try to force them to try a new food; they resist. In order to encourage your picky eater to try zucchini, we have to be mindful of how we talk about it.
Instead of telling your kid or toddler that zucchini is so tasty or good for them, we can teach them about what zucchini does in their body. Sharing information that your little one can understand helps them learn about what it does and how it will benefit their body.
This can change how they think and feel about zucchini. Eventually, they will choose to try it when they are ready.
Here are some facts you can share with your child about zucchini:
Age 0-3: Zucchinis have a lot of water in them and our bodies need water to feel good!
Age 3-5: When we eat water-filled foods like zucchini, we have an easier time going to the bathroom.
Age 6-11: Zucchini has water and something else called fiber, which helps us during bathroom breaks.
Age 12-18: Zucchini is a vegetable filled with water and fiber. When the water and fiber move through our bodies, it helps push our bowels through our gut so we have an easy time using the bathroom.
Next time zucchini is made, Mimi can tell Owen a new fact so he continues to learn about the benefits of zucchini.
Zucchini Food Activity
Our final strategy to reverse picky eating involves getting kids closer to new foods through play. Food play includes looking, smelling, touching and tasting new foods. Why is food play helpful? When toddlers and kids encounter new foods, they could feel overwhelmed and that may trigger their bodies’ fight, flight or freeze reaction. Interacting with food through play helps picky kids get used to new food, so they are desensitized and have less fear.
Food play activities can be simple or elaborate based on the time you have, but no matter what kind of activity you choose, when your picky kid feels more comfortable around zucchini, they are more likely to try it.
Selective children will need multiple exposures to zucchini, and this activity counts as one! This activity may not get your child to try it right away, but it will be very helpful to the overall goal of teaching your kid to eat zucchini.
If you want more activity ideas, check out Food Play Every Day: 102+ Food Play Activities for Kids.
Zucchini Food Puzzles
- 1 zucchini, washed and cut in rounds
- 1 cucumber, washed, cut in rounds, optional
- Mini cookie cutter (one or more shapes, whatever you have)
- If desired, saute zucchini for 5 minutes to keep it firm and not mushy.
- Use the cookie cutter to cut out shapes in the cucumber and zucchini. If your child is able, allow them to cut out the shapes.
- Once shapes are cut, mix and match to make into small puzzles.
- As a second option for older kids, use the different shapes to play a game like tic-tac-toe.
Note: You can use cooked or uncooked zucchini for this activity so your child can explore the different feel of zucchini!
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
Johane Filemon, RD
Laura Petix, M.S., OTR/L
Erinn Jacobi, M.S., OTR/L
Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed
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