Research shows that positive food interactions and repeated exposures to new foods increases both a child’s willingness to eat and the likelihood that they enjoy a new food.

If you’re struggling to get your extreme picky eater to try new foods at mealtimes, try playing with and exploring foods outside of mealtimes.

Touching, smelling, and exploring foods can help kids feel more comfortable tasting new foods.

The fun activities below encourage these sensory experiences that can improve picky eating. Though they use winter vegetables, they are great for any time of year. Adapt as you need. You can invite your child to explore and sample the foods you introduce, but avoid pressuring them to try the foods or even to participate. The more fun you can make it, the better their experience will be and the more likely they will be to try eventually.

Potato Person

How to: First, break toothpicks in half. These will affix features to your potato person. Next, cut the very end off of one long end of the potato to create a flat edge. Using whatever fruits and vegetables or other soft foods you have on hand (cheese, marshmallows, charcuterie), decorate your potato. You can add ears, eyes, eyebrows, a nose, a mouth, hair, arms, a hat, feet, and whatever else you think of. Feel free to get silly! Bonus if you eat the veggie supplies after.

Need: potato, knife, toothpicks, variety of vegetables or fruit

Sniff Test

How to: Bake wedges of sweet potato each flavored with different spices. Once cooked, place them in a covered container. Lift the lid and guess which flavor based on smell alone. You could also do this using a taste test.

Need: Sweet potato wedges, a variety of spices and seasonings (ie garlic, cinnamon, maple syrup), containers with lids

Crunch Contest

How to: With raw carrots, take a bite using different teeth and see who can make the loudest crunch. Is it louder when you crunch with your front or back teeth? Does it make a difference what shape the carrots are in? Whole, coins, or sticks? Baby carrots or large ones?

Need: raw carrots

Butternut Squash Mash

How to: Slice a winter squash into cubes and steam or roast until very soft. Once cool, spread the squash across a baking tray. Using a fork or potato masher let your child smash down to make footprints and mash the cubes. Bonus if they try the mashed squash. It’s delicious with butter or maple syrup.

Need: steamed or roasted squash seeds, plate or baking tray, fork or potato masher

Turnip Tower

How to: Try your hand at building a tower with cubes of turnips and toothpicks. See who can build the tallest tower or make the most unique structure.

Need: turnips, knife, toothpicks

Beet Stamps

How to: Slice beets in half. Use this as a stamp alone by dipping in water or using food paint (purees like mustard, ketchup, or yogurt) to make a creation on art paper. Parents and caregivers, you can also carve a fun shape like a smiley face into the beet.

Need: beets, knife, paint (food or regular), paper

For even more food play ideas to help a picky eater try new foods, check out Stories of Extreme Picky Eating and our fall food activity list.

Recap

Food play and sensory activities with food can help your picky eater try new foods. When doing these activities aim to keep things fun. Model the activities and participate alongside your child, but avoid pressuring your child to participate or try new foods.

Homework

Aim to complete one fun sensory food activity weekly. Ask your child which they’d like to try first. Make a plan to complete it and get your shopping list ready beforehand if needed.