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Casey was a member of her elementary school softball team, and her dad was super involved. They loved this special bonding time together. Casey’s dad was sure she needed to eat a “balanced meal” to play her best during practices and games. The problem? Casey was a picky eater. She didn’t like half the foods that he served her yet!
“Casey, eat your potatoes!” her dad said at dinner.
“I don’t like potatoes. I don’t want to eat them!”
“You need to eat your potatoes. You don’t want to be weak for your big game tonight, right?”
We know all too well that feeding kids can be extremely tricky. We are here to help you get out of the types of tense food battles that Casey and her dad are experiencing so you can move on to the fun parts of parenting! Reversing picky eating is a long-term process, and we’re here to help you take your first steps.
Here’s our guide to help you teach kids to eat potatoes. You’ll learn:
- How to serve potatoes to picky eaters
- The benefits of potatoes for kids
- How to talk about potatoes to help your child try them
- How to help your child understand what potatoes do in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with potatoes
How to Serve Potatoes to Picky Eaters
Our best advice for serving potatoes to picky eaters? We recommend you do not pressure a child to eat any foods, especially when they are picky eaters. Thinking of Casey and her dad, he pressured her to eat potatoes by saying she would be weak for her game. Once she felt pressured, she resisted, and a food battle created tension. She definitely wasn’t going to eat them after that!
There are many ways a child might feel pressured to eat. Here are a few examples:
“If you don’t eat this, you won’t grow big and strong like me.”
“Just try a bite. You don’t even know what it tastes like yet!”
“Finish your plate; you’re being disrespectful.”
Removing pressure from mealtimes can be a great way to help your child learn to like a new food at their own pace.
Similarly, serving micro portions can help your fussy eater feel more comfortable with new foods. Micro portions are small amounts or pieces of food. A large, adult-sized portion of food may intimidate a selective kid. Casey, for example, may have been more likely to try a small piece of potato rather than a large one. (Bonus? Micro portions also cut down on food waste.)
Lastly, varying the way you serve new foods may also help your picky child try them. If you served a particular food one way and your child refused it, try serving it differently next time. In the case of potatoes, they are usually served cooked. Potatoes can be baked, roasted, fried and grilled, and they can be served whole, chopped or mashed. There are so many ways to serve potatoes to kids!
The Benefits of Potatoes for Kids
Sometimes potatoes get a bad reputation for having “no nutritional value.” We want you to know potatoes DO have nutritional value. In fact, they have a lot of benefits for children. Did you know that potatoes have more potassium than bananas? Potassium is essential for maintaining good muscle function.
Potatoes also act as a source of fiber. Fiber is beneficial for a healthy digestive system and reduces risk of other diseases. Potatoes also have vitamin C, which is an antioxidant that is helpful in aiding sick kids back to health.
When we realize how many benefits potatoes have for kids, we can see why it was so important to Casey’s dad that she finished them at dinner. She may have tried them if he knew how to talk about them in a different way.
How to Talk About Potatoes to Help Your Child Try Them
Picky kids often use negative language towards new or unfamiliar foods. “This is super gross!” “Ew! It has a spot on it.” “That’s too sticky.” Negative language causes kids to focus on their picky eating behaviors. It makes it harder for picky eaters to learn to try a new food.
The good news is you can learn new words to use and share them with your kids! One way to achieve this is to use these new words through your own actions. This is called modeling. Do this by using a wide variety of neutral words when speaking about foods or meals. Neutral words are words that aren’t positive nor negative.
If you use positive words, a picky eater may think you are only saying good things about the food as a way to trick them into trying it. It won’t work. If you use negative words, your picky eater definitely won’t want to eat it. Neutral words will help your child understand that they could learn to like a food in the future.
Talking about food in a new and different way won’t make your child try potatoes overnight. But, this is an integral part of our strategy in getting your picky child to eat potatoes in the long run.
Here are some words you can use to describe potatoes to your selective eater:
- Small flavor
- Small / big
- Small smell
When we think about Casey’s situation, there are other ways her dad could have described the potatoes. He could have said, “Potatoes are heavy and have a small flavor.”
How to Help Your Kid Understand What Potatoes Do in Their Body
There are some ways to talk about foods with your picky eater that make it more difficult for them to think about new foods in a positive way. Luckily, there are ways to talk about foods that make it easier for your selective eater to think differently. For example, if you say, “This food is a healthy food,” your child may decide they don’t want to eat it before they even try it. They may be suspicious because you said it was “healthy” or “good for them.”
Trying to convince a child like Casey that she MUST eat potatoes is not the way to go. Instead, you can start to talk about what these potatoes do in your child’s body as conversations around the new food spark at the dinner table.
We want to share information that a child can understand. We also want to help them make the connection that food is fuel for their body and that it does certain things.
Unfortunately, this won’t magically make your child try something new, but this is an important step in teaching your child to accept new foods.
Here are some messages for potatoes. You can come up with more.
Age 0-3: Brown foods give you energy to play.
Age 3-5: Potatoes do a bunch of things in our bodies. They give us energy and help keep our hearts strong.
Age 6-11: Potatoes give us energy and have something called potassium. Potassium helps keep our hearts pumping blood around our bodies.
Age 12-18: Potassium helps keep our blood pressure healthy, which keeps our heart healthy. Potassium aids our bodies in protecting against heart disease.
Next time Casey’s dad senses a food battle coming over potatoes, he may say, “Potatoes have potassium, which keeps our hearts strong.”
Potato Food Play Activity
Food play activities help kids learn to try new foods by looking at them, touching them, and smelling them. Eventually, picky eaters may become comfortable enough to taste a new food and be open to liking it.
Food activities are great at desensitizing the body’s sensory system. When a sense is new to the brain, the brain may automatically perceive it as a danger that could trigger the fight or flight system. In other words, food play helps your child’s body become more used to the food and no longer see it as dangerous. Then, when you do serve the food to your child, they know what to expect from the texture or smell. When your child’s body and brain understands the qualities of the food, they can learn to taste it. They may learn to like it as well.
Food activities are as simple as having your child help prepare food with you. They can also be more involved if you have the time and energy to put into it.
It’s important to remember, potato activities aren’t going to make your child learn to like potatoes overnight. This is a process that could take a lot of time. Picky eaters have to go through many stages of being with potatoes including looking at them, smelling them, tasting them, touching them, and more. For more selective kids, start small with looking and smelling activities. Then work your way to more in depth activities for touching and tasting.
We’ve given you an example of a potato activity for kids to get you started. 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.
Here is a potato activity that Casey’s dad could do to help her learn to like potatoes.
- 1 large potato
- Condiments (yogurt, ketchup, mustard, ranch)
- Bowls for condiment “paint”
- Knife (for prepping only)
- Cut 1 large potato lengthwise into ½ inch thick slices.
- Cut out a few simple shapes, such as a square, triangle or rectangle. You can also use cookie or veggie cutters here if you have them.
- Cook the potatoes your preferred way. You can use an air fryer, skillet or oven.
- Set out paint in small bowls.
- Once the potatoes have cooled, add toothpicks to the shapes and let your child use them as stamps by dipping the chopped potato into the “paint” and pressing them on paper.
Tip: For babies (or any kids) you can also make edible “paint” out of yogurt mixed with food coloring or smashed berries.
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
“Nutritional Value.” National Potato Council, November 12, 2020. https://www.nationalpotatocouncil.org/benefits-of-potatoes/nutritional-value/.
Arnarson, Atli. “Antioxidants Explained in Simple Terms.” Healthline, July 29, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/antioxidants-explained.
Cherry, Kendra. “How the Fight or Flight Response Works.” Edited by Steven Gans. The American Institute of Stress, August 21, 2019. https://www.stress.org/how-the-fight-or-flight-response-works.
“Cronometer,” Accessed July 19, 2021. https://cronometer.com/#foods.