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When Molly was a child, her parents found out that she had severe allergies. They taught her to be very careful around new foods. Due to this, she developed some restrictive eating habits in order to keep herself safe. One night her sister added mushrooms to the chicken and rice, and that didn’t go well.
Molly’s sister had begun eating and noticed Molly had not even touched her plate of food. Her sister said, “M., it’s good. You should try it!”
It looked as if Molly was frozen with fear. Her sister pushed the plate towards her and Molly shoved the plate away. Molly yelled, “Those black, squishy things look disgusting! Are they rotten? Please don’t make me eat them!”
Molly’s sister said, “Trust me. It’s OK. It’s so good for you.” But Molly would not hear it. Her sister knew mushrooms were not in her unsafe food category, but felt so bad she made a dinner her sister didn’t want to eat. Molly’s sister made a new plate of food so Molly could eat, but knew she was going to need some help to get her sister to try mushrooms.
We totally get it. Feeding kids is tricky, especially when it comes to picky eaters. We’ve been through the food battles and want to help you move past them too. Overcoming picky eating is a long process and we are here to support you. Here’s our guide to help you teach kids to eat mushrooms. You’ll learn:
- The benefits of mushrooms for kids
- How to serve mushrooms to picky eaters
- How to talk about mushrooms to help your child try them
- How to help your child understand what mushrooms do in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with mushrooms
The Benefits of Mushrooms for Kids
Mushrooms, although considered vegetables for cooking purposes, are actually fungi. Mushrooms have many beneficial vitamins and minerals, plus protein and fiber. One of the minerals mushrooms contain is selenium, which acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants help correct any harm done by free radicals, naturally occurring particles that can be harmful to cells. Mushrooms also contain protein. Although not a high amount, it is considerable when compared to other vegetables. Protein will aid with kids’ growth and muscle development. Additionally, the fiber in mushrooms is insoluble and helps feed beneficial bacteria located in the intestines which promotes overall digestive health.
Special note! Mushrooms can also contain vitamin D. That’s right; Vitamin D is not only found in dairy products. Mushrooms that have been exposed to UV light (which would be noted on the package) can contain this important vitamin. Vitamin D helps absorb calcium so kids can have strong bones!
There are just so many mushroom benefits for kids, and it’s clear to see why Molly’s sister wanted to add them to Molly’s diet.
How to Serve Mushrooms to Picky Eaters
Purchase dried mushrooms to create a broth, or try fresh to eat raw or in soups or sauteed over rice; there are so many ways to eat mushrooms. This means there are so many ways you can expose your picky eater to mushrooms. Kids, especially picky kids, may need to try a new food multiple ways, so don’t be discouraged if they don’t like mushrooms the first (or even one hundredth!) try.
When serving mushrooms to your kid, we recommend making it a micro portion. These are small tastes, one bite or pinky-finger-sized serving of the mushrooms. A reason picky kids may refuse to try food is because the portion is overwhelming. Serving a micro portion is removing that barrier that could prevent them from trying the food. A plus for you is that these micro portions are a great method to cut down on food waste as you introduce mushrooms.
Also, whenever serving meals or snacks to a picky kid, make sure to do so without putting pressure on the child to eat. In many cases, pushing a picky eater to try a food will most likely cause them to push back ten times harder. Think back to Molly’s story. Her sister was trying to be helpful when she told Molly it was OK to eat the mushrooms, but her approach was a form of pressure. Molly ended up getting a new plate without any mushrooms.
Here are more examples of what pressuring kids can sound like:
“It’s good, and good for you. Just try one bite.”
“The mushrooms have cheese on it, you love cheese. Why not try it?”
“I’ll let you have extra dessert if you just take one bite.”
If you’ve found yourself using some of these, don’t feel bad! Like Molly’s sister, we want what is best for our little ones. Keep reading for some new ways to talk about mushrooms without adding pressure, so you can get your kids to eat mushrooms – and maybe even learn to like them!
How to Talk About Mushrooms to Help Your Child Try Them
Picky eaters, like Molly, tend to describe mushrooms (and other new foods) in a negative way. Molly thought the mushrooms looked “rotten” and were “disgusting.” Their feelings are valid, but the negative word choice doesn’t help these kids try the new food–it keeps them in the cycle of picky eating.
A strategy to help picky eaters eat mushrooms and other new foods (and eventually learn to like them) is talking about them using neutral language. Neutral language is neither positive nor negative and speaks to the characteristics of the food, which helps picky kids learn about it. Fussy eaters can learn how to use neutral language from you through a technique called modeling. Kids copy what adults say all the time, so if you speak about mushrooms using these words and phrases, they will catch on and talk about it that way too.
Your selective eater may not jump to try mushrooms right away, but modeling neutral ways to talk about mushrooms can help change their minds. Eventually your kid may learn to eat mushrooms and even like them!
Here are neutral words you can used to talk about mushrooms with your picky child:
- Small sound
- Umami/savory flavor
- Medium flavor
- Bumpy (if dry)
How to Help Your Child Understand What Mushrooms Do In Their Body
Molly’s sister tried to convince Molly to try the mushrooms by saying they were “so good for you.” This statement, while true, isn’t very helpful. Molly and other fussy eaters don’t care if a food is healthy or “good,” especially because those are general words that adults use to talk about many things. Some picky kids may even connect words like “healthy” to another food that they don’t like, which also doesn’t get them closer to trying a new food.
When talking to kids about mushrooms, we suggest telling them how it’s healthy or what makes it “good”and what it does in their bodies. Creating this connection between food and how it serves the body for a child can be very powerful. Will your picky kid be ready to try mushrooms after you tell them these fun facts? Probably not. But this can help them change their minds and be willing to try mushrooms and eventually learn to like them.
Here is what this that can look like at different age levels:
Age 0-3: Mushrooms grow in the dirt and keep germs away.
Age 3-5: Foods that grow in dirt like mushrooms take in things from the earth that help us not get sick.
Age 6-11: Mushrooms are part of the fungi family and grow on the earth, not on a plant. They have something special in them called selenium which helps our body fight germs and infections so we don’t get sick.
Age 12-18: Because mushrooms are fungi and grow in the ground, they absorb a mineral called selenium. When we eat mushrooms, the selenium enters our bodies and makes the cells that fight germs and infections stronger.
Mushroom Food Play Activity
Letting your little eater play with their food may not be the first idea you have when wondering how to reverse picky eating. But food play is a valuable tool and part of the strategy to reverse picky eating. Food play allows your selective eater to interact with the food in a more comfortable manner. Sometimes, new foods trigger the flight, fight, or freeze response in children. They need time, and multiple tries, to become more comfortable with a new food. When they are more comfortable around a new food, this opens up opportunities to look, touch, smell, taste, and eventually like a new food.
It is normal that picky eaters move back and forth between looking, touching, and smelling before they are willing to taste. Helping picky eaters is a long game, so don’t be discouraged if they touch a new food one day and refuse it the next day. Every child is different and so is each child’s process.
Food play doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as pointing out the new food while in the grocery store. Or you can create interactive activities. Here is a fun and easy food activity for you and your child to interact with mushrooms. Together, you will make mushroom food art using mushrooms, other vegetables you have, and a couple common household items. Just remember food play is a fun way to expose your child to mushrooms. If your child chooses not to participate, that is OK too. You go ahead and model the behavior. And feel free to change based on your own family’s needs.
Food Art with Mushrooms
- Other vegetables (anything else you have)
- Nut butter or yogurt, optional
- Paper or washable place mat
- Knife (or kid-safe knife if age-appropriate)
- Wash and dry mushrooms and the other vegetables you will be using.
- Cut vegetables into shapes. If you have a safe, kid-friendly knife, or if your kids are older, allow them to cut or make shapes out of the vegetables and mushrooms. Younger children can tear the mushrooms with their hands.
- Create art out of the shapes. Use the nut butter or yogurt to help the art “stick”!
Note: With this activity, be creative and play along with your child. It could also be fun to recreate a piece of art you saw at a museum or gallery or a beautiful picture you have seen. With younger kids, place multiple vegetables and mushrooms in a bowl and have them sort the produce into smaller containers.
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
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