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Sonia loves babysitting her younger siblings. But it starts to get tricky when her little sister Sisa refuses to eat the quinoa breakfast porridge.
“I don’t like this breakfast! It’s too mushy!” whines Sisa.
“Just take one bite and then you can go back to drawing. Doesn’t that sound nice?” begs Sonia.
“No way!” yells Sisa.
“I don’t like my breakfast either!” screams Sindy, the youngest of the sisters.
Sonia, now frustrated, scrambles around the kitchen looking for something everyone could agree on. A box glowing in the corner caught her eye. Donuts!
We know that feeding kids can be challenging, and we want to help you prevent these food battles. Overcoming picky eating can be a long-term process, and we’re here to help you through the journey. Here’s our guide to help you teach kids to eat quinoa. You’ll learn:
- How to serve quinoa to picky eaters
- The benefits of quinoa for kids
- How to talk about quinoa to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what quinoa does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with quinoa
How to Serve Quinoa to Picky Eaters
When you’re serving any food to a child, we recommend that you avoid pressuring the child to eat. Think back to Sonia and Sisa’s situation. Sonia tried to pressure Sisa to eat the quinoa she served. Once Sisa felt pressured, she became more headstrong in her refusal to eat.
There are many ways a child might feel pressured to eat. Here are a few examples of pressure:
“You can’t have any more chips until you eat all your greens.”
“Awesome job! Now just take one more bite!”
“No dessert unless you clean your plate.”
Removing pressure from the situation can be crucial in helping your child learn to like a new food at their own pace.
Another good tip for serving new foods to picky children is to offer micro portions. Micro portions are small pieces of food about the size of a pea. Smaller portions are less intimidating to selective kids than larger, adult-sized portions. Plus, serving only small amounts helps cut down on food waste!
Furthermore, serving foods in different ways may encourage your fussy eater to try them. Depending on your child’s age, you could serve foods whole and raw or chopped and cooked. There are many ways to serve quinoa. It is usually cooked and can be toasted before cooking. Cooked quinoa can be served hot or cold and it works well as an alternative to rice, oatmeal and porridge. You can also use quinoa as the base of a grain bowl or salad, and it can be blended with other ingredients to make patties or veggie burgers.
The Benefits of Quinoa for Kids
Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) comes in a beautiful array of colors, most commonly red, black, yellow/ivory and white. Quinoa has more benefits for kids than just its beautiful hues; it is also considered a pseudocereal. Pseudocereals can be used to replace grains that may contain gluten. This makes it a fantastic alternative for those with celiac disease, wheat allergies or gluten intolerance.
Is quinoa good for kids and toddlers? You bet. Quinoa is packed with fiber, and it is a plant-based complete protein. Complete proteins, commonly known as the body’s building blocks, contain all nine amino acids that our bodies do not produce. When eaten, complete protein helps the body to support and sustain itself.
How to Talk About Quinoa To Help Your Child Try It
You might notice that fussy eaters often use negative language when talking about food. “This makes me want to puke!” “I’m not going to eat that! It smells like poop!” “That’s disgusting.” This negative language intensifies their picky behaviors. It makes it harder for them to learn to try a new food.
To put an end to the negativity, you can teach your child new words to use when describing food. Use a wide variety of neutral words yourself when talking about foods to model the process to your child. These words shouldn’t be positive or negative.
Why is neutrality so important? If you use positive words, a picky eater may think you are trying to force them to eat it. If you use negative words, your picky eater definitely won’t want to eat it. Neutral words will help your child understand that they may learn to like a food in the future.
Talking about food differently may not make your child try quinoa immediately. However, it is an important part of our strategy to get kids to eat quinoa in the future.
Here are some words you can use to describe quinoa to your selective eater:
- Red, black, white or yellow
- Quiet sound
There are many ways a caregiver may pressure a child to eat without even knowing it. To remove pressure, Sonia can try saying “Quinoa is so tiny. It can also be squishy!”
How to Help Your Child Understand What Quinoa Does in Their Bodies
How we talk about foods with kids can make it easier or harder for them to try new foods. For example, if you say, “This food is good for you,” your child may decide they don’t want to eat it before they even try it because they may think “good” means it won’t taste appetizing.
As most parents and caregivers can relate, trying to talk picky kids like Sisa and Sindy into trying a food they don’t want to eat is nearly impossible. A better option is to talk about what foods do in your child’s body.
We want to share information that a child can understand. We also want to help them make the connection that the food they eat does something in their body.
It’s unlikely that this will make them try a new food right away. It may take some time, but this is an important step in teaching your child to eat new foods.
Here are some age-appropriate statements about quinoa Sonia could say to her siblings. You can come up with your own as well!
Age 0-3: Quinoa can be so colorful! Colorful foods help us grow!
Age 3-5: Quinoa has a special coat. This cozy coat can help you poop!
Age 6-11: Quinoa has a special coat called fiber. Quinoa also has things your body uses to build strong muscles.
Age 12-18: Quinoa is a plant-sourced complete protein. Complete proteins contain the nine essential amino acids our body needs to build strong bones and muscles.
Quinoa Food Play Activity
Food play can help kids learn to try new foods. When kids experience a new food through the five senses (sight, touch, smell, hearing and eventually taste), they may learn to like it.
Activities with food also desensitize the body’s sensory system. When a sense is new to the brain, the brain may automatically perceive it as a danger and trigger the fight, flight or freeze response. Desensitizing means that your child’s body becomes more used to the food. That way, when your child is around the food, the smell, texture or taste are not so shocking. Once your child’s body and brain are used to the food, they can learn to taste it. And they may learn to like it as well!
Food activities can be as simple as having your child help prepare food with you. They can also be more fun and exciting if you want to put more time into them.
Quinoa activities aren’t going to make your child learn to like quinoa instantly. This is a process that may take a lot of time. They may have to go through many stages of being with quinoa, such as looking at it, smelling it, tasting it, touching it, and more. The key is to start small with looking and smelling activities for more selective or picky kids and work up to bigger activities like touching and tasting.
Here is one example of a quinoa 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, you may enjoy our food activities guide: Food Play Every Day.
Here is a quinoa activity that Sonia could do to teach the children to eat quinoa.
Explore the Quinoa Mines
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups water
- Prizes of your choice (small toys, rocks/stones)
- Large bowl
- Tools of your choice (spoons, measuring cups, funnels, paintbrushes, etc.) and clean hands
1. Rinse quinoa thoroughly in a large bowl about 3 times. This helps to remove the bitter taste associated with quinoa.
2. Pour the rinsed quinoa in a saucepan with water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then decrease the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the quinoa has absorbed all of the water, about 10 to 20 minutes.
3. Remove the saucepan from heat, cover and steam the quinoa for 5 minutes. This gives the quinoa time to pop open into curls, making it nice and fluffy. Remove the lid and fluff the quinoa with a fork.
4. Pour into large bowl and let quinoa cool for 3 hours in the fridge.
5. Remove cooked quinoa. Place prizes into quinoa and mix together so that all the prizes are covered.
6. Use your imagination and take yourself on an adventure, “mining” for treasure. Use tools to help dig out the prizes.
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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Gunnars, Kris. “11 Proven Health Benefits of Quinoa.” Healthline, June 28, 2018. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-benefits-of-quinoa.
Dati, Alexandra, Gail Kauwell, and Amy Simonne. “Facts about Quinoa.” AskIFAS Powered by EDIS. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, April 2017. https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/fy1408.
“Gluten-Free Foods.” Celiac Disease Foundation. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://celiac.org/gluten-free-living/gluten-free-foods/.
“What Is a Complete Protein?” Piedmont Healthcare. Accessed July 12, 2021. https://www.piedmont.org/living-better/what-is-a-complete-protein.
“Why Fiber Is So Good for You.” UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals. University of California San Francisco, June 16, 2021. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/why-fiber-is-so-good-for-you.
Conway, Claire. “The Unbearable Sensation of Being: Living With Sensory Processing Disorder.” UCSF Magazine. University of California San Francisco, July 1, 2021. https://magazine.ucsf.edu/unbearable-sensation-being.