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How to Help Your Child Learn to Eat Onions

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Francis’ aunt enjoyed making dishes for her nieces and nephews when she babysat them on the weekend. 

She wanted to make a French onion soup with the onions she had just grown in her home garden. She expected all of the children to love it since they enjoyed soup. Everyone enjoyed the new dish–except Francis, that is!

“Eww, what is that!?” Francis asked, pointing to the floating onions in the soup. 

Her aunt did not know how to respond. She started, “Could you please try some for me?” Francis refused and pushed the bowl of soup as far as she could. So her aunt told her, “If you do not eat, I will have to tell your parents.” 

Francis began to get upset as she sat in her chair, not wanting to even look in the direction of the soup.

We know that feeding children can be difficult and we want to help you prevent food battles. Overcoming picky eating is a long process. We are here to help! Follow along and learn how to teach your kid to eat onions. You’ll learn:

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

The Benefits of Onions for Kids

Providing your child with variety can be challenging if they are reluctant to try new foods. Onions are good for kids because they provide important vitamins and minerals. Onions come in different varieties with white, yellow and red being a few of the well-known kinds.

Onions are a good source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for a child to consume because it helps boost the immune system. Onions also host other vitamins and minerals.

Onions are also a good source of potassium. Potassium is important for muscle contractions and proper nerve function.

Onions also contain compounds that help regulate cholesterol levels in the body.

With all of these benefits of onions, it is understandable that caretakers like Francis’ aunt want to get kids to eat onions. 

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

How to Serve Onions to Picky Eaters

When serving onions to picky eaters, we recommend varying the ways you serve them. Serving food differently can prevent your kids from getting into a rut. Onions can be eaten raw, but because of their strong flavor, they are most commonly served cooked. They can be sauteed, roasted, boiled, caramelized and more! They are added to many dishes, like soups, stews and stir-frys, but your selective eater may prefer to see those mixed dishes deconstructed, with the various ingredients placed out separately.

Additionally, you can try serving onions to picky eaters in micro portions. Micro portions are small portions of food, sometimes as small as a fingernail, that may encourage your child to eat. Larger, adult-sized portions can be intimidating to fussy eaters. (Serving small portions can also help you cut down on food waste!) In the story above, Francis’ aunt could have served Francis small, deconstructed pieces of some of the soup ingredients to help encourage her to try the onions.

Finally, it’s important to remember that children may need several exposures to onions, such as seeing, smelling or touching them, to become more familiar over a period of time. During these exposures and at mealtimes, we recommend that caregivers avoid pressuring children to eat food they don’t want to. 

Instead, there are many different ways to introduce children to onions that can help them learn to like them. Francis had no prior exposure to onions when they were served and, therefore, hesitated. Once she felt pressured to eat, she got more stubborn and refused to even look at her food.

There are many ways a parent or caretaker might unintentionally pressure a child to eat. Here are a few examples:

“Please, please just eat it.”

“Your friends like onions, so you should give them a try too.”

“If you take a bite, I will let you play video games.”

To sum up, removing pressure from situations can offer a great opportunity to teach your child to eat onions at their own pace. Also, varying the way you serve foods and offering micro portions are helpful techniques for dealing with picky eating.

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

How To Talk About Onions to Help Your Child Try Them

Picky eaters often use negative language when talking about food. You might hear, “That smells gross!” Or in Francis’s case, “Eww, what is that?” These negative words reinforce their pickiness. 

What’s the solution? Try speaking about foods in a neutral and objective way. Remaining neutral about a particular food can be hard, but it is important that you try to refer to foods as their characteristics and not by adjectives such as “good” or “bad.”  

Talking objectively about food will not automatically make a child try new foods. But it is a key part of our strategy to get children to eat onions.

Here are neutral words you can use to talk about onions objectively:

  • Red, yellow or white
  • Round
  • Strong smell
  • Vegetable
  • Layered

When serving the French onion soup, Francis’ aunt could have said, “Onions have a strong smell. Onions also have many layers.”

How to Help Your Child Understand What Onions Do in Their Body

Introducing new foods into your child’s diet will be an ongoing process. Remember, it’s important to talk about the food, allow the child to express their feelings about the food, and allow time for the food to become less mysterious before assuming your child will taste it.

Consider this example, “Francis, it’s okay that you don’t want to try onions right now. We will work together to learn more about onions.”

Is this going to immediately change the mind of a child just because you say it? No. But this is one step in a direction that will have many more steps along the way.

This can be a stressful time for your child, so having patience and responding to hesitation positively is important as well. When talking to your child about onions, focus on the characteristics of the food.

Here are some ways you can talk about onions with a picky eater. You can come up with your own as well!

Age 0-3: Red/white/yellow foods like onions help you go poop.

Age 3-5: Onions having something called fiber. Fiber helps your body poop.

Age 6-11: The fiber in onions helps you feel full longer. It also helps our body poop and not get tummy aches.

Age 12-18: Fiber plays a really big role in immune health. Onions contain fiber that helps us stay free from sickness and pass bowel movements.

Francis’ aunt could have introduced onions to her by saying, “Onions have fiber. Fiber helps our body poop.”

Onions Food Play Activity

Picky eating in children can be a game of patience and repetition. A child may go back and forth between wanting to touch, see or smell a particular food, and not wanting to be around it at all. 

Allowing for a no-pressure approach such as food play can allow for a child to become less fearful of the new food and potentially open up to the idea of tasting it somewhere down the line. 

Food activities also allow for desensitization to occur, which is the process of your child becoming familiar with the food. Then, when your child is with the food, they may be less scared.

Food activities can be as simple or as complex as you would like. Many food activities can also be adjusted to meet the needs of different age groups.

Here is an example of an onion activity for kids. 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.

You and your child are going to play a word activity. Be sure to mention that this food activity is for having fun together. If your child is feeling apprehensive, reassure your child that there is no pressure for them to play if they do not want to.

Matching Game

Materials

  • Onions
  • Other foods that your child is comfortable with
  • Paper with food names on them

Steps

  1. Place different foods on a clean surface and spread them out.
  2. Either write the name of the food as your child guesses the name or allow them to choose from a name bank. Match the food with the correct name.

If you want to be a little adventurous, you could consider adding a photo of a food that they may be less familiar with to increase the amount of food exposure.

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. 

Author

Shemar Hawkins

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

“Onion Health Research.” National Onion Association, May 13, 2020. https://www.onions-usa.org/all-about-onions/onion-health-research/. 

Bisen, Prakash, and Mila Emerald. “Nutritional and Therapeutic Potential of Garlic and Onion.” Current Nutrition & Food Science, June 2016. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304283129.

 https://www.onions-usa.org/all-about-onions/onion-health-research/

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Prakash-Bisen/publication/304283129_Send_Orders_for_Reprints_to_reprintsbenthamscienceae_Nutritional_and_Therapeutic_Potential_of_Garlic_and_Onion_Allium_sp/links/576b881908aef2a864d2146b/Send-Orders-for-Reprints-to-reprintsbenthamscienceae-Nutritional-and-Therapeutic-Potential-of-Garlic-and-Onion-Allium-sp.pdf

Shemar Hawkins

Shemar O. Hawkins is the Child Nutrition Fellow at Kids Eat in Color. He reads and synthesizes scientific literature and creates research briefs on child nutrition and guides to help parents and caregivers feed their picky eaters. He is currently working on becoming a Registered Dietitian- Nutrition at Texas State University.

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