How I Use Pasta to Fight Pickiness in My Kids

updated Sep 30, 2020
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(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

How often do you introduce new foods to your kids? If I’m being completely honest, my family falls into these deep seasonal ruts with dinner vegetables and it looks a lot like us eating broccoli once a week from January through April. Then when the markets overflows with radishes, spring greens, and asparagus, I want to go wild with new (or forgotten) vegetables. It can be frustrating to see tiny noses turn up at vegetables they loved last year but haven’t seen in months.

I have a silly strategy that works well and doesn’t require hiding those vegetables or nagging them to try the snap peas at dinner. You can call it partnering or pairing, but I call it the buddy system and it works incredibly well with pasta. Here’s how serving new foods with my kids favorite food — pasta — fights pickiness at the table.

The buddy system works for food too.

Do you remember the buddy system from kindergarten? You know, holding hands with your partner going from your classroom to the school bus line two-by-two? You had someone to look out for and someone looked out for you.

This idea works well for serving new foods to young kids, too: Partner their favorite food with something new and they are more likely to try it. Pasta happens to be my go-to for this technique because it is a favorite of my 6- and 3-year-old alike, and it can be served with everything from sautéed vegetables to sausage and every sauce in between. Here’s what it looks like in our house.

  • New foods are cut about the same size as whatever pasta we are cooking for dinner. This helps both picking up pasta and vegetables in one bite or avoiding the new food altogether if things go awry.
  • We serve the new food without fuss, fanfare, or explanation and everyone gets some on their plate.
  • If someone asks about the new, unfamiliar ingredient, we explain as simply as possible what it is and try to remind them where they’ve seen or eaten it before — “That’s asparagus! Remember we bought it at the market on Saturday.”
  • Again, no fuss or fanfare if they do or don’t try it. And no shame if they eat the pasta and the vegetables or meat they do like and leave the new things on the plate.

I asked my 6-year-old why she’ll eat more vegetables with her pasta and she said, quite astutely: “It makes me happy when there’s something I want to eat on [my plate], not just what you want me to try.”

If you’ve got a pasta-hater (I know they exist outside of my home), try using the buddy system with whatever your kids love best. Vegetables can be turned into sub sandwiches for bread-lovers, or almost anything can be stir-fried and served over rice. Don’t stress and don’t quit if they don’t love it the first time, either — it can take a few appearances on their plates for kids to approach new foods.

How do you encourage your kids to try new foods?