Cooking Gluten-Free with the "Picky Eater"

Is your child resistant to trying new foods? These strategies can help them step outside their comfort zone.

By Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer of Kitchen Classroom 4 Kids

Do you have a picky eater in your home? A child who swears by the same snacks every day, eats at only a few restaurants and begs you to bring his favorite snacks along when you go to visit cousins? Any parent of a “picky eater” knows that meal time can become a battlefield when your efforts to serve a balanced meal meet resistance. When your child is on a gluten-free diet, it may narrow down a picky eater’s already limited food choices, creating even more worry for mom and dad.

It is important to bring eating issues to the attention of your child’s doctor and any dietitian whom you may work with. One simple strategy you may want to try at home is to invite your picky eater to come into the kitchen and cook with you. Even if you think he/she would never actually taste what it is that you’re cooking, the process of creating food together may get your child closer to expanding his food repertoire. Here are some cooking tips to keep in mind for your picky eater:

1. Remember that eating is a multi-sensory experience.

When a child limits the foods that he/she eats, parents often wonder why the child won’t just try a bite or two of a new food. For the child, the resistance to trying the new food may not have to do with the actual taste of the food, but may be more about resistance to the food’s smell, color or texture. It is essential to help identify what aspect of the eating experience is distasteful to your child.

2. Experiment with different aromas.

For many children, resistance to new foods begins with their nose. Some children have extra-sensitive olfactory senses, but with some practice you can help them become comfortable with a wider palate of scents. Bring out a range of spices like cumin, coriander, cardamom and herbs like basil, rosemary, mint. Invite your child to take a whiff of each. Use your herbs and spices in a recipe to help your child become accustomed to their aroma.

Kid holding pear

3. Try different textures.

For some children, it is the feel of the food’s texture in their mouth that makes them unwilling to eat it. Try cooking recipes with your child that create foods with different textures (smooth, crunchy, moist, etc.) and take notes to identify which textures your child prefers and which he/she resists. You can begin practicing with small bites of the unflavored textures.

4. Encourage taking a bite.

The process of trying new foods begins in very small ways. Rather than pressuring your child, encourage him/her to take just a small bite of whatever you have cooked together. A small bite often leads to two, three and four…and if your child really doesn’t want to eat the gluten-free cookies you’ve just baked, pop them into the freezer and pull out the cookies to try again another day.

5. Try and try again.

It’s easy to give in to the frustration of your child’s limited eating and stick with his/her safe foods rather than attempt to introduce new foods. Cooking with your child is a fun way to introduce new foods in a gentle way. Encourage him/her to help you select recipes, shop for ingredients and plan dinner menus. Children who cook their food are generally more willing to try new foods. If at first he/she won’t try, don’t pressure…don’t give up…just try another recipe next time. You may be surprised by the new foods your son/daughter begins to eat!

About Gabrielle

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is the author of The Kitchen Classroom: 32 Visual GF/CF Recipes to Boost Developmental Skills. She teaches cooking and coaches parents about cooking with their kids via Skype. Sign up for her monthly e-news and follow the recipe of the week at

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