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On Thursdays after soccer practice, Helena’s mom worked late. That meant Helena went over to her grandparents’ house for dinner. Her grandfather grew up eating soybeans and he still loved to eat them. He knew about the unique health benefits soybeans offer. “They are just so good for you,” he would tell her. But, Helena was a picky eater. She wasn’t ready to try a complicated food like soybeans yet.
“No thank you, Grandpa,” she politely responded.
“I used to eat whatever was put on my plate as a kid. I ate soybeans four days a week! I didn’t have a choice.”
He was trying to get her to eat the soybeans, but Helena refused. She didn’t want her grandpa to be upset, but she really wasn’t ready to try them. After all, she didn’t know much about soybeans yet!
We know that feeding kids can be an extremely nuanced experience, and we want to help you get out of feeding ruts. Trying to reverse picky eating is a long-term process, and that is where our guide comes in. Here is everything you need to know to teach kids to eat soybeans, or edamame. You’ll find out:
- The benefits of soybeans for kids
- How to serve soybeans to picky eaters
- How to talk about soybeans to help your child try it
- How to help your child understand what soybeans do in their body
- A food activity that will help your picky eater learn to be more comfortable with soybeans
The Benefits of Soybeans for Kids
Soybeans (also called edamame) are a vegetable that is part of the legume family. Soybeans are great for kids due to their high protein content. They are even considered a whole protein source. That means that they provide all the essential amino acids your body needs to break down food, repair body tissue and perform other essential body functions.
An additional benefit of eating soybeans is they are high in vitamin K. Vitamin K helps to make different proteins required for blood clotting and bone building.
Helena’s grandpa mentioned he ate soybeans four times a week as a child. He must have known what foods like soybeans do inside the body. (That is so important for kids!) Next time he serves them, he may try sharing the details with Helena, so she can learn about soybeans as well and start thinking about them differently.
How to Serve Soybeans to Picky Eaters
Soybeans must be cooked to be eaten. Steamed, shelled edamame soybeans can be eaten out of the pod as a snack or appetizer. They can also be added to salads and soups. Switching up the way you serve foods to picky eaters can help them learn to eat different kinds of food. It can also help them avoid getting into a food rut. In addition to serving soybeans on their own and in your favorite recipes, you can also serve soy products, including soy milk, tofu and tempeh.
Also, offering micro portions to fussy eaters can help them learn to try new foods. Micro portions are small portions that are often less intimidating than a full, adult-size serving. This means serving one soybean at a time to a picky kid. For extremely picky eaters, you may even try serving a halved or quartered soybean. Once the child has gotten used to the food, you can increase the portion size slowly over time.
Finally, we recommend avoiding pressure to get your picky eater to eat their food. Helena’s grandpa meant well when he told her about his experience with soybeans. He didn’t realize that sharing this story with her was actually putting pressure on her, and she was becoming less likely to try soybeans.
What exactly does pressure look like? Here are a few examples:
“In my day, you had to be part of the clean plate club!”
“Just try one bite of everything on the plate, then you can leave the table.”
“It’s disrespectful if you don’t eat the food you’re given.”
Once you start removing pressure from mealtimes, you may be shocked at the foods your child becomes more comfortable with.
How to Talk About Soybeans to Get Your Child to Try Them
Picky eaters are often very negative when describing foods. Some phrases you may hear around your table if you have a picky eater might be: “That food isn’t my favorite.” “No way I will ever try that!” “Those smell icky!” These negative phrases reinforce their picky eating. It’s harder for selective eaters to learn to try a new food when they’re always thinking negatively about it.
There are some things you can do to help! Through your own actions, you can teach them new vocabulary to use. This is called modeling. Do this by using a wide variety of neutral words when speaking about foods or meals. These words won’t be positive or negative.
If you try to persuade kids to eat by talking positively about a food, like Helena’s grandpa did when he said soybeans were “so GOOD for you,” an anxious eater may think you’re fooling them into trying something yucky. If you use negative words, your child definitely won’t want to eat it. Neutral words, on the other hand, help your child understand the characteristics of a food. This helps them learn to tolerate or even enjoy a food in the future.
Once you start changing the way you talk about food, your child will start to become more open to it. It is effective, but this alone will not make your child try soybeans. It is one of many strategies we suggest you implement in order to get your child to eat soybeans in the long run.
Here are some words you can use to describe soybeans to your selective eater:
- Smooth (if shelled)
- Fuzzy (in the pod)
- Light smell
- Make a popping sound
If Helena’s grandpa knew about this language-swap technique, he may have chosen to say, “Soybeans are green. The pod is fuzzy and the beans inside are smooth and sweet.”
How to Help Your Child Understand What Soybeans Do in Their Body
The way that we speak about food to any kids (especially picky eaters!) can make it more or less difficult for them to try a new food. When we say, “This food is nutritious,” your child may decide they don’t want to eat it before they even try it, because they don’t know what nutritious means yet.
Trying to convince a child like Helena that she needs to eat soybeans usually doesn’t end well. Instead, try focusing on what that food is doing in your child’s body.
Our aim is to give the child information they can easily understand. We want to make the connection in their minds between the food they eat and how they affect their bodies.
Will changing our food vocabulary make our selective eaters suddenly pick up a new food and take a bite? Sometimes, but most of the time no. This is an important step in your child learning to try a new food.
Here are some things you can say about soybeans to fussy eaters. Feel free to come up with your own as well!
Age 0-3: Green foods help your boo-boos feel better.
Age 3-5: Soybeans are green, and green foods help your body heal cuts.
Age 6-11: Soybeans have something called amino acids. Amino acids help your body replace body tissue when you get injured.
Age 12-18: Soybeans have amino acids, which the human body uses to make proteins that help it to break down food, grow, repair body tissue, and assist in other essential body functions.
We know that if Helena’s grandpa knew this picky eating tip, he may have chosen to highlight what soybeans do in the body when talking to Helena. He could have told her, “Soybeans have something called amino acids, which help your body heal from injuries.”
Soybeans Food Play Activity
Food activities are a fun way for kids to get used to a new food. When kids look at, touch, smell, and eventually taste a new food, they could learn to like it.
Food play also desensitizes the body’s sensory system. When a sense is new to the brain, the brain may automatically perceive it as a danger which could trigger the fight or flight system. “Desensitize” means that your child’s body becomes used to the food. That way, when your child is near the food, it seems less smelly, less slimy, or less fuzzy to them. When your child’s brain and body get used to the food, they can learn to taste it. They just might learn to like it too!
Food activities can be as easy as having your child pick out produce at a grocery store. They can also be more adventurous like going to a farm and asking questions to the farmer about the food. Any level of food play is beneficial.
Soybean activities alone probably won’t get your kid to eat soybeans right away. This is a process that can take a lot of patience and practice for both you and them. Picky eaters must go through many stages of being with soybeans including looking at them, smelling them, tasting them, touching them, and more. For more selective kids, start out little with looking and smelling activities before gearing up for more involved activities like touching and tasting.
Here is one example of a food play activity that you can do with your fussy eater. 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 soybeans activity that Helena’s grandparents could do to teach her to eat soybeans:
POP! Goes the Soybean
Age group: 3-8
- Cooked and cooled soybeans (edamame)
- 2 or 3 bowls
- After cooking and cooling the edamame, place it in a bowl.
- Give an empty bowl to yourself and your child.
- Take an edamame pod and try to “pop” the soybean out of the pod and into your bowl by squeezing it out with your fingers. Act really surprised and excited when it pops out of the pod and gets into the bowl.
Tip: Older players may like to see how far they can pop their soybean. Try setting bowls at varying distances to see if your child can pop their beans to the farthest bowls.
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
Cronometer. Accessed July 19, 2021. https://cronometer.com/#foods.
“Amino Acids.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002222.htm.
Arnarson, Atli. “8 Surprising Health Benefits of Edamame.” Healthline, February 1, 2017. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/edamame-benefits.
“Vitamin K.” The Nutrition Source. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, July 2, 2019. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamin-k/.
“Legumes and Pulses.” The Nutrition Source. Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, July 6, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/legumes-pulses/.