Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That means Kids Eat in Color® gets commissions for purchases made through links in this post. As an Amazon Associate, Kids Eat in Color® earns from qualifying purchases. All opinions remain my own.
This article was reviewed by a team of experts, including Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed. View full list of reviewers below.
Autumn is Mrs. M.’s favorite time of the year. She has so many activities planned for her after-school adventure students, like going to the local farmers market, fun fall art projects, and her absolute favorite, the pumpkin potluck. The pumpkin potluck is the last fall event where each day, a few students bring a pumpkin recipe to share. At the potluck, all the students are encouraged to try one bite from each of the food and treats brought.
Mrs. M. scanned the classroom to make sure everyone tasted all the food, and lucky for her, this year no one had allergies or food restrictions. She noticed Jessi only ate the food she brought from home.
“Jessi, the class rules are to take one bite before you say no thank you. Let’s go try the other food! Your classmates are such good cooks!” Mrs. M. said.
“But Mrs. M.,” Jessi whispered, “The other kids brought food with the whole pumpkin in it. I don’t like how it feels in my mouth because it’s too mushy on the inside and too hard on the outside.”
Mrs. M. had never noticed Jessi refusing food before, so she said, “Just take one polite bite, please. That’s all you have to do.”
Jessi threw herself on the floor and began to cry, “I don’t wanna, Mrs. M.! It’s so yucky!”
Caregivers, teachers and parents all want children to eat healthy foods so they can thrive. This is more challenging when children are picky eaters. We understand how difficult it can be to deal with picky eating, and we are excited to share what we have learned to help teach your picky child to eat pumpkin.
- The benefits of pumpkin for kids
- How to serve pumpkin to picky eaters
- How to talk about pumpkin to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what pumpkin does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with pumpkin
The Benefits of Pumpkin for Kids
Pumpkins are one of the most iconic fall foods, but there is more to them than meets their jack-o-lantern eyes. Pumpkin is one of many winter squashes that is widely consumed. While pumpkins are enjoyed throughout autumn we can appreciate them for more than their taste.
One benefit of pumpkin is that it has vitamin A, which helps kids with their eyesight and immune function. Vitamin A also helps the heart, lungs and kidneys function well.
Pumpkin is also beneficial to kids because this vegetable contains fiber to help prevent diarrhea and constipation.
How to Serve Pumpkin to Picky Eaters
There are so many ways to help your picky kid to try pumpkin. Pumpkin flesh, seeds, flowers, stems, and leaves can all be eaten, so there are endless ways to serve pumpkin to picky eaters. Fresh pumpkin can be added to soup, roasted or boiled. Canned pureed pumpkin can be used in baked goods like muffins, pancakes, and bread. Pumpkin seeds can be roasted and enjoyed as a snack or on top of a salad or smoothie. Serving pumpkin in a variety of ways will allow your child to have many opportunities to taste pumpkin.
When serving your kiddo pumpkin for the first time, give them a micro portion. These pinky-sized portions are not only less intimidating to picky eaters, but they give you the added benefit of cutting down on food waste. By serving a micro portion, you give your child the opportunity to try pumpkin without having to finish a normal, adult-sized serving. Just remember to serve this taste without a helping of pressure.
Leaving out pressure during meals and snacks can be so helpful for all kids but especially selective eaters. When Mrs. M. pressured Jessi to take one polite bite, Jessi felt so overwhelmed by the idea of eating the “mushy, yucky pumpkin” that she refused to eat entirely and cried.
Here are a few more examples of what pressure can sound like:
“It’s rude to turn your nose up, Jessi. Take a bite.”
“Take a bite because your friends made it. You may change your mind!”
“I don’t want to have to call your parents and tell them you were not following class rules. Just try it.”
When pressure is removed from mealtimes, our kids and toddlers get to decide if they want to try the new food. Giving them the opportunity to try new food when they are ready can actually help in getting them to eat pumpkin. Jessi might have tried one of the foods if Mrs. M. had not pressured her.
How to Talk About Pumpkin to Help Your Child Try It
“Mushy. Yucky.” It is very common to hear negative language like this from fussy kids. Using this type of language is unhelpful for picky eaters because it supports their beliefs about not trying or liking new foods.
Negative language can also sound like:
“Ugh the whole pumpkin. That’s the worst part!”
“Pumpkin is so disgusting!”
“Ew, it’s too soft!”
Instead of using negative language, we want our children to speak about new foods using neutral language. Neutral, objective language can be a beneficial tool to help reverse picky eating. Neutral language is not positive and vague, it’s more specific and emphasizes talking about foods in terms of their characteristics. Neutral language can help teach kids about pumpkin.
You can teach them to use neutral language through modeling. Basically, if you start talking about pumpkin in a neutral way, your kid will follow your lead. This strategy won’t make your picky kid like pumpkins tomorrow, but it is a part of our overall strategy to encourage your kid or toddler to try new foods.
Here are some words you can use to describe pumpkin to your selective eater:
- Small taste
- Multiple sizes
- Small sound
- Wet on the inside
Here’s one thing Mrs. M. could have said to Jessi about pumpkins: “The pumpkin your classmates brought smells sweet.”
How to Help Your Child Understand What Pumpkin Does in Their Body
Getting a picky kid to eat pumpkin can feel like a maze. Do we say “pumpkin is healthy,” so they know we want them to eat it? Or will that make them turn their nose up? We also don’t want to tell them that pumpkin always tastes like pumpkin pie because that would give them false hope. So what to do?
What we can do is tell our kids and toddlers what pumpkin does in their body. Sharing information in a way kids can understand helps them learn about new foods. This is important because it can change how a picky kid feels about pumpkin. It can also help them decide that they want to try pumpkin and they may even like it too!
Knowing that foods can affect how your body works is another step in getting picky eaters to try new foods.
Here are some messages you can share with your fussy eater about pumpkin:
Age 0-3: Pumpkins help you see in the dark.
Age 3-5: Pumpkins have something called vitamin A, which makes our eyes strong so we can see in the dark.
Age 6-11: The vitamin A (beta-carotene) in pumpkins keeps our eyes, heart, lungs and kidneys working well.
Age 12-18: We get vitamin A from orange foods like pumpkin when the beta-carotene converts into vitamin A in our body. Vitamin helps keep your eyes, heart, lungs, and kidneys working well.
Next time, Mrs. M. can spend a whole week talking about pumpkins. She can tell her students, whether they are picky eaters or not, that pumpkin helps them see in the dark. That way picky kids like Jessi know that pumpkin is beneficial for their body.
Pumpkin Food Activity
When it comes to overcoming picky eating, our last strategy is to get kids closer to new foods through play. Food play includes looking, smelling, touching and tasting new foods. Why is food play helpful? Well, when picky children encounter new foods, they may feel overwhelmed and 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 child feels more comfortable around a food, it will help them be more willing to try it.
Selective kids will need multiple exposures to pumpkin, and we have a fun activity for you to try. While this activity may not get your child to try or like pumpkin right away, it will be helpful.
Pumpkin Finger Painting
- Pureed pumpkin
- Bowl (or small bowls if using food dye)
- Food dye, optional
- Spoon, optional
- Place pumpkin puree in a bowl. (If using food dye, place pumpkin in as many small bowls as you want and stir in the food dye.)
- Using your fingers, paint pictures with the pumpkin as the paint. You can also use spoons and other utensils as the paint brush in addition to your fingers.
For more food play ideas, check out Food Play Every Day: 101+ 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
Johane Filemon, MS, RDN
Laura Petix, M.S., OTR/L
Erinn Jacobi, M.S., OTR/L
Stefanie Kain, B.S., M.Ed
Baylin, Jonathan. “Behavioral Epigenetics and Attachment: The New Science of Trust and Mistrust.” The Neuropsychotherapist 1, no. 3 (2013): 68–79. https://doi.org/10.12744/tnpt(3)068-079.
Benson, Jeryl D., Carol S. Parke, Casey Gannon, and Diane Muñoz. “A Retrospective Analysis of the Sequential Oral Sensory Feeding Approach in Children with Feeding Difficulties.” Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, & Early Intervention 6, no. 4 (2013): 289–300. https://doi.org/10.1080/19411243.2013.860758.
Berk, Laura E. Development Through the Lifespan. 7th ed. Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc., 2018.
Bodison, Stefanie C., and L. Diane Parham. “Specific Sensory Techniques and Sensory Environmental Modifications for Children and Youth with Sensory Integration Difficulties: A Systematic Review.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 72, no. 1 (December 2017). https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2018.029413.
Brennan, Dan, reviewer. “Pumpkin: Health Benefits, Nutrients per Serving, and More.” WebMD, September 18, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-pumpkin#1.
Case-Smith, Jane, and Jane Clifford O’Brien. Occupational Therapy for Children. Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby/Elsevier, 2010.
Cooke, L. “The Importance of Exposure for Healthy Eating in Childhood: A Review.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 20, no. 4 (2007): 294–301. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-277x.2007.00804.x.
Copple, Carol, and Sue Bredekamp. Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs: Serving Children from Birth Through Age 8. 3rd ed. Washington, D.C.: National Association for the Education of Young Children, 2008.
Cronometer. Accessed September 4, 2021. https://cronometer.com
Hagan, Joseph F., Judith S. Shaw, and Paula M. Duncan, eds. Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents (Pocket Guide). 4th ed. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics, 2017. https://brightfutures.aap.org/Bright%20Futures%20Documents/BF4_POCKETGUIDE.pdf.
Jennings, Kerri-Ann. “Pumpkin: Nutrition, Benefits, and How to Eat It.” Healthline, September 9, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pumpkin-nutrition-review.
Kramer, Paula, Jim Hinojosa, and Tsu-Hsin Howe. Frames of Reference for Pediatric Occupational Therapy. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer, 2020.
Milestone Moments: Learn the Signs, Act Early. Atlanta, GA: Department of Health & Human Services USA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2011. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/pdf/parents_pdfs/MilestoneMomentsEng508.pdf.
Min, Kyoung-Chul, and Yoo-Im Choi. “Review of Effectiveness Sensory Integration Therapy on Feeding and Oral Function of Children Focus on Single-Subject Research Design.” Journal of Korean Society of Occupational Therapy 29, no. 1 (2021): 101–13. https://doi.org/10.14519/kjot.2021.29.1.08.
Papalia, Diane E., Ruth Duskin Feldman, and Sally Wendkos Olds. Human Development. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2009.
Parham, L. Diane, Gloria Frolek Clark, Renee Watling, and Roseann Schaaf. “Occupational Therapy Interventions for Children and Youth with Challenges in Sensory Integration and Sensory Processing: A Clinic-Based Practice Case Example.” American Journal of Occupational Therapy 73, no. 1 (January 2019). https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2019.731002.
“Preschooler Development.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002013.htm.
“Pumpkin.” Have A Plant. Accessed September 4, 2021. https://fruitsandveggies.org/fruits-and-veggies/pumpkin/.
“Pumpkin.” SNAP Education Connection. Accessed September 4, 2021. https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/seasonal-produce-guide/pumpkin.
“Pumpkin, Cooked, Boiled, Drained, without Salt.” FoodData Central. USDA, April 1, 2019. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168449/nutrients.
Raman, Ryan. “9 Impressive Health Benefits of Pumpkin.” Healthline, August 28, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/pumpkin.
Roley, Smith Susanne, Erna I. Blanche, and Roseann C. Schaaf. Understanding the Nature of Sensory Integration with Diverse Populations. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed, 2007.
“Vitamin A – Fact Sheet for Consumers .” NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, January 14, 2021. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminA-Consumer/.
Ware, Megan. “Pumpkins: Health Benefits and Nutritional Breakdown.” Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, November 1, 2019. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/279610.