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How to Help Your Child Learn to Eat Tomatoes

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Jasmine’s uncle enjoyed tomatoes on his special burgers. He knew that Jasmine would love his famous recipe, like everyone in the family. 

Jasmine looked at the burger and began to deconstruct it. She removed the sliced tomato saying, “Whatever this is, it looks yucky!” 

Jasmine’s uncle did not like this response. He told her not to remove the tomato and to eat the burger as it was. Jasmine then pushed the plate as far away from herself as possible. Jasmine’s uncle did not know what to do, so he just sat there and waited for her to take a bite. 

They sat at the table together for thirty minutes before he realized she just was not going to take a bite.

We know that feeding kids can be tricky, and we want to help you get out of these food battles. Reversing picky eating is a long-term process, and we’re here to help you do that! Here’s our guide to help you teach your child to eat tomatoes. You’ll learn: 

Related: Join BetterBites – the best selling course for the families of picky eaters

The Benefits of Tomatoes for Kids

Tomatoes come in a variety of sizes and colors, such as the cherry tomato, green tomato and grape tomato.

Tomatoes are a good food for kids because they encourage good immune function in children. The reason for this is because tomatoes are high in vitamin C, a vitamin that supports immune health and assists with fighting sickness like colds and the flu.

Also, tomatoes are a great source of hydration due to its high water content. Staying hydrated is very important, especially in hot climate areas.

Tomatoes also are packed with antioxidants, which also assist in overall immune and growth support.

Recalling Jasmine’s situation, it makes sense why her uncle really wanted her to eat tomatoes.

Related: Need recipes with tomatoes? Real Easy Weekdays: The Meal Plan for Busy Families

How to Serve Tomatoes to Pick Eaters

When serving tomatoes to children, we recommend varying the way you serve them to prevent kids from getting stuck in a rut. Offering new foods in different ways can encourage fussy eaters to try them. Tomatoes can be cooked and baked, and they are often served raw. They can be sliced and used as a topping on burgers and sandwiches. They can be diced and added to green salads and grain salads. They are also delicious on their own. Tomato products, like tomato sauce, tomato soup and ketchup are also popular. 

Another thing to keep in mind when serving picky eaters is to offer food in micro portions. Micro portions are small, pea-sized amounts of food that may be less overwhelming to children than adult-sized portions. (Bonus? Serving micro portions can help cut down on food waste with picky children!)

Finally, when serving any food to a child, we recommend you not use pressure to get a child to eat. Thinking back to the situation with Jasmine and her uncle, Jasmine’s uncle expected her to eat the tomato with no hesitation. Once Jasmine realized her uncle was not going to allow her to eat without eating the tomatoes, she refused to eat altogether. 

There are many ways a child may feel pressured to eat. Here are a few examples of what pressure can look like:

“If you take one bite, we will play games later!”

“It’s awesome that you ate your chicken. Now just take a bite of your veggies.”

“We will sit here until you finish your plate!”

To conclude, when serving tomatoes to picky eaters, serve the tomatoes differently each time you serve them, offer micro portions and don’t pressure the child to eat. 

Related: Get our picky eater guide – From Stress to Success: 4 Ways to Help Your Child Eat Better without Losing Your Mind

How to Talk About Tomatoes to Help Your Child Try It

Picky kids will regularly use negative words to describe food. “That is awful!” “Why is that so greasy?” This negative word usage causes them to remain picky. It increases the likelihood they will remain negative about new foods.

The good news is that you can introduce new words to describe foods. You can help your child expand their vocabulary with words that are descriptive but are not negative. This method is called modeling. These words won’t be either positive or negative.

Remaining neutral about a particular food can be hard, but it is helpful to try to describe foods by their characteristics and not by adjectives such as “good” or “bad.” 

Here are neutral words you can use to speak objectively about tomatoes:

  • Red
  • Round
  • Smooth
  • Fruity
  • Tart
  • Soft

When Jasmine’s uncle served the burger, he could have told Jasmine, “Tomatoes are red and juicy!”

How To Help Your Child Understand What Tomatoes Do in Their Body

Introducing a new food to your child can be difficult. It’s important to remember that before assuming your child will taste a food, you may need to talk about the food. You may also need to allow for your child to express their feelings about the food, and allow time for the food to become less unknown.

Trying to convince a picky eater like Jasmine that she needs to eat tomatoes usually will not end well. Instead, try to start talking about what a food does in your child’s body when it naturally comes up in conversation.

Now, is talking about foods going to spontaneously make a child eat tomatoes? Probably not on the first couple of tries. This is but one step in the process.

This can be a stressful time for your child, so having patience and responding to hesitation positively is important. When talking to your child about tomatoes, focus on new characteristics of the food. Share information in a way that your child can understand. 

Here are some messages about tomatoes to share with selective children. You can come up with your own as well!

Age 0-3: Red foods like tomatoes help fight sickness.

Age 3-5: Tomatoes have something called antioxidants which help us fight sickness.

Age 6-11: The antioxidants in tomatoes help protect against getting sick and getting stomach aches.

Age 12-18: Antioxidants play a really big role in immune health. Tomatoes contain these antioxidants, and when we eat them, they help us stay free from sickness and keep us hydrated.

When serving the burger, Jasmine’s uncle could have said, “Tomatoes are fruits that help fight sickness.”

Tomato Food Play Activity 

Picky eating in children can be a game of patience and repetition. A child may have to go back and forth between wanting to touch, see or smell a food, and sometimes the child ends up not wanting to do any of those things. 

Allowing for a no-pressure experience such as food play can allow a child to become less fearful of a new food and potentially open up to the idea of tasting it.

Food activities also allow for desensitizing to occur, which means that your child’s body becomes more used to the food. When a sense is new to the brain, the brain may automatically perceive it as a danger and trigger the fight or flight system. Desensitizing allows for a food to become familiar. As a child becomes used to a new food over time, it does not seem as strong smelling or as slimy to them. This makes the food seem less scary and may get your child to taste tomatoes–and maybe even learn to like them.

Tomato activities are not going to magically make Jasmine or any other fussy eater eat something overnight. This is another process that may take longer than just a couple of activities to get a child to eat a food.

Start small and work your way up from just looking at the food to more complex activities that allow for smelling and maybe even touching. Tasting is the ultimate goal, but any progression should be viewed as a win.

Here is an example of a tomato 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 to like new foods, you may enjoy our food activities guide: Food Play Every Day.

Be sure to mention that this food activity is for having fun together. If your child is feeling apprehensive, reassure your child that there is no pressure for them to play until they are ready.

Tomato Tic-Tac-Toe

Age group:

Materials

  • A clean surface such as a plate or cutting board
  • 6 grape tomatoes
  • 6 grapes
  • Construction paper
  • Marker

Steps:

1.   Slice fruit in half. (They can be choking hazards, so be sure to slice for young children.)

2.  Draw a tic-tac-toe board. Your child can help with this drawing.

3.  Take turns playing the game of tic-tac-toe using different modifications as you and your child see fit. 

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. 

Author

Shemar Hawkins

Reviewers

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

References

Garone, Sarah. “Can Babies Eat Tomatoes?” Healthline, August 28, 2020. 

Zelman, Kathleen. “The Health Benefits of Tomatoes.” WebMD, November 5, 2019. https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/ss/slideshow-tomato-health-benefits

Raiola, Assunta, Maria Manuela Rigano, Roberta Calafiore, Luigi Frusciante, and Amalia Barone. “Enhancing the Health-Promoting Effects of Tomato Fruit for Biofortified Food.” Mediators of Inflammation. Hindawi Publishing Corporation, March 12, 2014. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3972926/. 

Shemar Hawkins

Shemar O. Hawkins is the Child Nutrition Fellow at Kids Eat in Color. He reads and synthesizes scientific literature and creates research briefs on child nutrition and guides to help parents and caregivers feed their picky eaters. He is currently working on becoming a Registered Dietitian- Nutrition at Texas State University.

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