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Lily was going on a trip to the coast to visit her aunt, uncle and cousins. She was really excited to see them, as it had been so long since their last visit! She was also anxious about it. They eat a lot of seafood in that area and because Lily was a very picky eater she was nervous she wouldn’t have many options. She didn’t know anything about seafood or shellfish. They didn’t eat it much where she was from.
The day they arrived, everyone went out to lunch at a shrimp stand by the water. Lily was immediately concerned. She didn’t know what she would order from a shrimp stand. Luckily they had french fries, her favorite food!
After ordering, her cousins started to tease her about her lunch. “Just french fries?! Our parents would never let us eat like that!”
Lily’s aunt and uncle tried to smooth it over by putting one shrimp on her plate without asking. Her aunt said, “Here is a fried shrimp for you to try. Once you take a bite, you’ll see it’s just like a chicken nugget.”
Lily felt embarrassed, and wondered why she couldn’t like the same foods her cousins ate. She was so wrapped up in it, she barely even touched her fries–her favorite!
Maybe you have a picky eater who has experienced a sticky food situation like Lily had. We definitely have, and want to help you teach your kid to eat shrimp. This article will reveal:
- The benefits of shrimp for kids
- How to serve shrimp to picky eaters
- How to talk about shrimp to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what shrimp does in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with shrimp
The Benefits of Shrimp for Kids
Shrimp is a nutritional powerhouse when it comes to your child’s growing brain. It is high in protein. Just three ounces of shrimp has 18 grams of protein! Protein foods help contribute to the development of your child’s bones, muscles, immune system and, you guessed it – their brain!
Omega-3 fatty acids can also be found in shrimp. These help to keep kids’ cardiovascular systems working properly. Similar to protein, these fatty acids are also key players in brain health! Omega-3 fatty acids are fats that our bodies do not make on our own. Since they can only be obtained through external nutrition sources, shrimp is a perfect option for adding omega-3 fatty acids to your child’s diet.
With so much brain power packed into these tiny shrimp, it is no wonder that Lily’s family really wanted her to try some. They just needed to give her a little more space before trying to serve it to her.
How to Serve Shrimp to Picky Eaters
Choosing to serve new foods in different ways can make a big difference in your child’s picky eating. The more variety in presentation, the more you can encourage your kids to eat shrimp. Kids can eat shrimp cooked in salads, sushi, with dipping sauces, and in shrimp sandwiches like a po’boy. Shrimp cooks quickly and can be deep fried, grilled, baked, or stir-fried and added to pasta, rice, grits, sauces or curries. It is also a prime choice to star in tacos, burritos and grain bowls.
Another thing to keep in mind when serving shrimp to kids is portion size. Have you ever been served a big portion of a food you didn’t like? It can be really intimidating as adults, especially when someone you love made it for you! Picky kids feel the same way about many foods.
We can help unfamiliar foods become less scary by serving a tiny, taste-sized amount of it with foods they already like. We call these tiny servings micro portions. Micro portions cut down on food waste and give your child the space they need to start thinking about the food differently. That is the first step toward a taste!
Thinking back to Lily at the shrimp stand, she may have benefited from being introduced to shrimp differently. If she had been offered a tiny piece on a plate next to her french fries, she could investigate it at her own pace. It also wouldn’t be touching her safe food.
A third piece of advice for introducing shrimp to picky eaters is to stop pressuring them to eat. That’s right, we said it! Pressuring already selective eaters into trying foods can provide the opposite result. Instead of trying the food, they become more resistant to it.
Pressure at mealtime takes on many forms. Here are some ways that pressure can sound:
- “Look, Mommy is taking a bite of shrimp. Don’t you want to be like Mommy?”
- “You can’t have any more rice until you at least try the shrimp.”
- “Don’t leave food on your plate. Don’t you know it’s wasteful?”
When Lily’s aunt put a piece of the shrimp on her plate without asking first, it wasn’t obvious to her that it was actually pressure. Next time, she might try talking about shrimp with Lily. By removing pressure, Lily’s aunt might be helping teach her niece to eat shrimp.
How to Talk About Shrimp to Help Your Child Try It
It is rare that a picky eater speaks positively about a new food when they are confronted with it. Instead they turn to negative words which only strengthens their fussy eating habits.
There is something we can do to combat this dismissive commentary around foods. We can teach our children to use neutral words to describe foods, as opposed to negative or positive words. By describing food neutrally, children open their minds up to making more objective opinions about it. This may even lead them to trying it down the line!
Changing the way you talk about foods in your home won’t immediately yield a solution to your picky eating woes, however it is a major step in changing your child’s eating behaviors over time. These behavior changes are how you get your kid to eat shrimp and other unfamiliar foods.
Here are some words you can use to describe shrimp to your selective eater:
- Pink & white (cooked)
- Wet (uncooked)
- Squishy (cooked)
- Ocean smell
- Crispy (fried)
During Lily’s lunch at the shrimp stand, her aunt mentioned that it “tasted like a chicken nugget.” This wasn’t very helpful for Lily, who knew it was in fact not a chicken nugget. Instead, her aunt could have said, “This is fried shrimp. It is crispy on the outside and has a sweet taste inside.”
How to Help Your Child Understand What Shrimp Does in Their Body
How we talk about foods with our little meal critics is important. Trying to talk your child into doing anything can be difficult, let alone trying to get them to put a new food into their mouth and swallow it. When talking about a particular food with kids, being overly excited about how great and yummy it is will really freak out fussy eaters. Of course speaking negatively about it also won’t give us the result we are looking for. They’ll just agree and never touch it!
We find that talking about what foods do inside the body helps skeptical children learn more about them. The more interesting the food is, the more likely they are to be open to accepting it.
The next time you serve a food your child is still learning to like, try sharing with them some cool food facts, like the ones below about shrimp. Learning these facts may encourage your child to try shrimp for the first time!
Age 0-3: Shrimp gives your brain power.
Age 3-5: Shrimp gives your brain the power it needs to think about new things.
Age 6-11: Shrimp has protein. Protein helps your brain understand new ideas and keeps your muscles growing big!
Age 12-18: Shrimp has protein which helps your muscles, bones and brain grow. It also has omega-3 fatty acids, which are needed to keep your heart working properly.
Lily may have found it interesting to know shrimp has protein that helps your brain understand new things. Perhaps if her aunt had shared this cool information about shrimp with her, she would have been more open to having a piece of it on her plate.
Shrimp Food Activity
Food play activities can be a delightful bonding experience for you and your child. They also provide an invitation for your picky eater to learn about a new food in a helpful way that is also fun and natural. Playing food games helps desensitize fussy eater’s brains and bodies to a food that may initially strike them as “icky” or even frightening. The more they see a food, the more likely they are to touch it the next time they see it. Once they touch it, they may even venture to smell or eventually lick it over time.
Patience is the name of the game for us as the grown-ups. It is very common for children to need many, many exposures to a food before they are willing to try it. Each time you expose them to a new food, you are doing the work that’s needed to get your selective eater closer to stepping outside of their comfort zone.
Food activities do not have to be overly complex. You can find ways to incorporate them into your daily routine. Some ways you can do this are by having your child peel a new vegetable to prep for a meal, have your child pick an interesting ingredient out at the grocery store, or help weed a vegetable or herb garden. Food activities can also be more involved if you have the time and energy.
Below is a food activity you can use to introduce shrimp to picky eaters and all kids and toddlers. Remember, we don’t want to pressure kids to interact with food, so if your child refuses to touch the shrimp, they do not have to participate and can wait until they are ready.
Not sure how to incorporate food play into your daily life? Try Food Play Every Day: 101+ Food Activities for Kids.
- 2 (or more) ready-to-eat cocktail shrimp
- Condiments of different colors
- Pour a dollop of the different condiments onto the plate. Use this as your “paint palette.”
- Take the tails off of the shrimp.
- Take the shrimp and dip one side into one of the condiments on the palette.
- Stamp it onto the paper and make a design. Using two shrimp as a mirror image of each other, you can create a heart shape. Using one shrimp, you can create the letter C and other patterns or designs. See what your child comes up with!
Note: Over time, try this with different types of cooked shrimp. Sauteed, fried, baked, small or large, whatever forms you are likely to serve it in. This will help your child get familiar with all the different textures that various shrimp have to offer.
For variations and more ideas, get Food Play Every Day: 102+ Food Activities for Kids!
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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.
Johane Filemon, MS, RDN, CLT
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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