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How to Help Your Child Learn to Eat Oats

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On busy mornings, Cheyanne’s grandmother gets a bit stressed out. She prefers to make simple meals on these mornings, and her personal favorite has always been oatmeal. The problem is, Cheyanne won’t touch it! Every time it is served, Cheyanne cries out for eggs or waffles because the oatmeal “looks mushy” in her bowl. 

Her grandmother is frustrated. She doesn’t understand why she won’t just try it. “Can’t you just make my life a little easier today and eat what I am eating? At least try a bite?” She doesn’t want to make two separate breakfasts.

As caretakers of children, many of us can relate to her grandma’s irritation in this scenario. 

We know that feeding kids can be touch-and-go. We want to be the support you need to end food battles at mealtime. Reversing picky eating is a long-term process, and we’re here with you through all of it! This is our guide to help you get your kid to eat oats in the future. You’ll learn: 

Related: Join BetterBites – the best selling course for the families of picky eaters

How to Serve Oats to Picky Eaters

When you’re serving any food to a child, we recommend not pressuring a child to eat it. Let’s put ourselves in Cheyanne’s breakfast situation. Her grandmother tried to make her eat oats by using guilt. Once Cheyanne felt that pressure, she decided she would not eat it and said it was because the food was “mushy.”  

There are lots of ways to pressure a child to eat. Here are a few examples:

“Just another bite and you can have some chips.” 

“Nice work eating your main portion. Now you can have the side dishes.”

“You have to eat it or you won’t have any tablet time.”

Next time, Cheyanne’s grandmother may consider serving oatmeal on a day that isn’t so busy and talking the pressure off. Removing the pressure is a great way to help a child learn to like a new food at their own pace.

Related: Get our picky eater guide – From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better without Losing Your Mind

The Benefits of Oats for Kids

Are oats good for kids? Oats are a great source of soluble fiber for children. Soluble fiber is an important nutrient because it helps to promote heart health by lowering bad cholesterol and assisting in controlling blood pressure. 

This type of fiber also supports your gut health by feeding the good bacteria that help with digestion.

Of course, Cheyanne’s grandmother wanted her to eat oatmeal for breakfast. Oats are chock-full of soluble fiber as well as many other nutrients like iron, magnesium and more!

Related: Need recipes with oats? Real Easy Weekdays: The Meal Plan for Busy Families

How To Talk About Oats to Help Your Child Try Them

Picky kids often use less than positive language about food. Most of us caretakers have heard some version of Cheyanne’s, “It looks mushy,” comment. Whether kids say, “This is disgusting!” or “I’m not going to eat that,” the negative language can cause children to remain picky. It makes it harder for them to imagine learning to like a new food.

Luckily, you can give them new words to use to describe foods. You can help your child adopt these new words through your own actions. This process, called modeling, can be done by using a wide variety of neutral words when speaking to your child about foods or meals. These words aren’t positive or negative.

If you use positive words, a skeptical eater may pick up on the fact that you are trying to get them to eat it and simply refuse. If you use negative words, your picky eater definitely won’t want to eat it. Neutral words will help your child realize that they just may learn to like a food in the future. 

Talking about food in this manner won’t make your child try oats this week. However, it is a key part of our strategy to help your child learn to like oats in the long run. 

Here are some words you can use to describe oats to your selective eater: 

  • Beige
  • Small flavor
  • Light
  • Little smell
  • Soft
  • Loose
  • Quiet sound

One way Cheyanne’s grandmother could have talked about the oats would be to say, “Oats have a small flavor, so I like to add cinnamon to mine.”

How To Help Your Child Understand What Oats Do In Their Body

How we talk about foods with picky children (or any child!) can make it harder or easier for them to try a new food. For example, if you say, “this food is a healthy food,” your child may decide they don’t want to eat it before even trying it, assuming it will taste bad. 

Trying to convince a child like Cheyanne that she must eat oats probably won’t end well. Instead, you can start to talk about what foods do in your child’s body. 

The goal is to share tidbits about the food that a child can understand. We also want to help them connect that food does something in their body after consuming it. 

Is this going to miraculously inspire them to try something new? Probably not. This is just one step in your child’s journey of learning to try a new food. 

Here are some messages to use to talk to your kids about oats. You can come up with your own as well!

Age 0-3: Oats help our tummy stay healthy and work correctly.

Age 3-5: Oats help your stomach get rid of food it doesn’t need.

Age 6-11: Oats feed the good bacteria in your gut, which help you to digest foods more easily so you can poop.

Age 12-18: Oats feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome, which help you to digest foods more easily and absorb more vitamins into your body.

When Cheyanne’s grandmother served the oatmeal, she could have added, “Oats have fiber, which helps us feed the bacteria in our gut that keep our body working properly.”

Oat Food Play Activity 

Food play helps kids learn to try new foods. When kids look at, touch, smell, and eventually taste a new food, they are learning to like it. 

Food activities also desensitize the body’s sensory system. When a sense is new to the brain, it may automatically perceive it as a danger. This may trigger the fight or flight system. Food activities can help decrease this “danger factor” and make the unfamiliar feel more familiar. Then, when your child is interacting with the food, it doesn’t seem SO smelly, SO slimy, or SO sour to them. When your child’s body and brain is used to the food, they can learn to taste it. They may learn to like it as well.

Food play can be as simple as having your child help clean up the food scraps after prepping a meal. They can also be more fun and exciting if you have the time and ability to put more effort into it.

Oat activities aren’t going to force your child to learn to like oats overnight. Children have to go through many stages of interacting with oats, including looking at them, smelling them, touching them, tasting them, and more. This process can take a lot of time.

If you need more food activity ideas broken down by age of child (0 to 10-years-old) and stage of learning, you may enjoy our food activities guide: Food Play Every Day.

Here is an oat activity that Cheyanne’s grandmother could do with her to help her learn to like oats. 

Oats Picture Reveal

Materials

  • A zip top bag
  • A picture of something your child likes
  • ½ cup – 1 cup cooked oats (any variety)

Steps

  1. Cook oats according to package instructions and let them cool completely.
  2. Place the image in the zip top bag.
  3. Spoon in the cooked oats, release all the air from the bag and zip the bag shut.
  4. Lay the bag flat on a table and move the oats inside the bag so they cover the picture completely.
  5. Let your child use their finger to “wipe” the oats and reveal the image.

Change it up: Place the oats in the refrigerator or freezer to add another layer of sensory experience!

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. 

Author

Alysha Fagan

Reviewers

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

References

https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/grain-month-calendar/oats-%E2%80%93-january-grain-month

https://www.healthline.com/health/beta-glucan-heart-healthy#:~:text=Because%20it’s%20a%20soluble%20fiber,keep%20blood%20sugar%20levels%20stable.

https://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0066019

Alysha Fagan

Alysha is the Program Manager for Kids Eat in Color. She leads initiatives and creates content to helps caregivers reduce stress and help their kids thrive at mealtime. Prior to joining Kids Eat in Color, Alysha project managed and built high-performance Customer Service teams for Top corporations. She is currently working towards a political science degree to fulfill her passion of advocating for systemic change in government. She enjoys being a mom, lifting weights (you heard that right!), and writing

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