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Food Science for Picky Eaters

Mar 08, 2024

Pressuring, threatening, bribing, pleading, and rewarding your kid to try new foods isn't a good strategy. Research shows that when kids are pressured to eat they become anxious, lose their appetite, and are less likely to accept foods. Mealtimes become very stressful for everyone.

Kids learn about new foods when we create a space where they feel calm, regulated, and respected…where fun, learning, and exploration is encouraged. Children learn through play and by using their senses. If you were too scared to touch a food, would you put it in your mouth? If you hated the smell of a food, would you take a bite? Probably not. When kids become more comfortable touching and smelling foods through sensory exploration and play-based food activities, this can help them become more comfortable around new foods in other environments like school, childcare, and gatherings with friends and family.

In previous blogs I've shared Food Play and Cooking with Kids activities to help kids learn about new foods using a child-led, responsive, and play-based approach.

When kids are internally motivated to learn about new foods they are more likely to want to taste them. Here are a couple of examples of kids demonstrating internal motivation to learn about a new food. One of the kids I chat with every week is a 12-year-old autistic boy who wants to learn about some of the foods that his friends eat. He recently expressed that he has a friend at school that eats cheese strings and he would like to learn to eat them too, but doesn't know how to go about it. An 8-year-old girl recently told me that she loves the smell of pizza and wants to learn to taste it. These kids expressed intrinsic motivation to explore new foods. They are much more likely to have success with foods they chose themselves versus foods that their parent/therapist chose for them.

External motivators like trying to please adults and rewards like extra screen-time might work temporarily, but these strategies rarely inspire a child to like a food. Can you remember a time when you were made to eat a food you didn't like as child? Do you like it now as an adult? 

What can we do to help kids feel safe around new foods?

Many of the kids I chat with about their food adventures express that they love Food Science! Experiments, hypotheses, and learning about cause and effect. What will happen if I mix this with this? How big will it get? How fast will it melt?

Do's and Don'ts of Food Science with your Little Einstein:


  • Provide direct supervision when using hot foods and kitchen tools during food science.
  • Have fun, laugh, get messy, be silly! If your child feels comfortable you can look, touch, and smell foods together.
  • Describe the properties of the food (orange, wet, bumpy, cold, sticky)
  • Talk about and model your own interactions with the food ("My cheese has a big smell.")
  • Follow your child's lead. If they don't want to participate, that's ok. Keep calm and carry on.
  • Use positive language like "Food Scientist" and "Food Explorer"
  • Give your child choices - "Which tool would be fun to smash this tomato with?"
  • If your child feels too anxious to touch a food, you could give them a cool-tool from their "food science kit" (you can find all kinds of fun utensils and tools at the dollarstore). If your child feels too anxious to touch the foods with a tool, they can just observe you touching.


  • Ask your child to taste the food or "take a bite" or "try it"
  • Oversell foods, "Yummmmy! This looks so delicious!" 
  • Yes, you can model eating the food yourself and smile, but there's no need to say anything to your child. Remember pressure doesn't help. 

Steps of a Science Experiment:

1. Objective (What are we going to do?)

2. Hypothesis (What do we think will happen?)

3. Experiment and Results (We did it! What happened?)

4. Conclusion/Discussion (What did we think or feel about that food experiment?)

15 Funtastic Food Science Activities:

1. States of Matter!

  • Shape shifting - Make popcorn in the microwave (Guess how many seconds until you hear the first POP!? Guess how long it will take the bag to change from a flat shape to a round shape? Comment on the steam it creates when you open the bag for your child)
  • Solids to liquids - Melting foods in the microwave or on the stove
  • Liquids to solids - Use popsicle molds or ice cube trays to freeze foods

2. Chemical Reactions! - Lemon Volcano 

  • Add a few drops of food colouring to the inside of a lemon. Pour some baking soda on top of the lemon. Mix the baking soda with the inside of the the volcano erupt! YouTube Lemon Volcano

3. Hypotheses! - Guessing Games 

  • Fill a jar with blueberries. Ask your child to guess how many are inside? Dump them out and count them together.
  • Guess what colour the smoothie will be when you push the button? 

4. Acoustics! Crunching Foods 

  • You can model biting into different types of crackers or break foods apart with your hands. Your child can guess which one will make the biggest crunch.

5. Physics! That's How We Roll

  • Roll round foods down a ramp and into a bowl (I used to use a piece of Hot Wheels car track with my son).
  • Which one will roll the fastest? Use a timer to see how long it takes to roll the food down the ramp into the bowl (think round foods! Meatballs, blueberries, grapes, tomatoes, peas). 

6. Mechanical Science! Breaking and Smashing Foods 

  • Use your muscles! How many pieces can your child break or cut the carrot or celery into?

7. Structural Science! Food Towers 

  • Predict how many cucumbers or cheese cubes you can stack until it falls over?

8. Predictions 

  • Which food will feel the most sticky? 
  • Which is the softest? 
  • Which one has the biggest smell? 
  • Which is the easiest to cut? 
  • Which cracker crunches the loudest?
  • Will broccoli feel smooth or bumpy? 

9. Chemistry/Mixing

  • Watch the colours change as you mix foods together.
  • Mix yogurt with juice/purees and make swirls as the colours change.
  • Mix ketchup with mayo to create pink.
  • Stir "fruit-at-the-bottom" yogurts and watch the colour change.

10. Oceanography! - Food Tornado

  • Add fruits/veggies to a large clear bowl or bin of water. Swirl the water around with your hands or a large spoon and watch the foods spin around the bowl in a colourful tornado.

11. Physical Science! - Weight and Matter

  • If you have a small food scale, hypothesize what the weight of a food will be or guess - Will the apple or carrot weigh more? 

12. Changes in Matter! - Squishing 

  • You can use a toy hammer, potato masher, meat tenderizer, or your hands to squash, mash, and squish foods.
  • For kids that are anxious about foods on their hands, try putting the foods inside clear plastic sandwich bags. They can squish the food through the bag without the food touching their hands.

13. Bouncing Egg

  • This one was my absolute favourite as a kid!
  • Place a raw egg, in the shell, in a jar of vinegar (you can add food colouring to make colourful eggs). Wait 24-hours. The vinegar will absorb the egg shell and the egg will become bouncy. As a kid, I used to love bouncing these eggs like a rubber ball!
  • YouTube Bouncing Egg

14. Use your sniffer! Your nose always knows!

  • Guess which one will have a bigger smell - an apple or applesauce?
  • Guess if a food will smell sweet or sour?

15.Kinesiology - Milk Swirl

  • Poor milk onto a plate. Add drops of food colouring. Swirl the milk with fingers, a popsicle stick, or toothpick to make groovy patterns.
  • Add stuff to the blender and watch is swirl and change colour

I look forward to hearing all about your Food Science adventures. Please pass along any pics or stories of your experiments and creations. Feel free to share my blog with friends, family, and your community.

 “The greatest scientists are artists as well.” - Albert Einstein



Galloway AT, Fiorito LM, Francis LA, Birch LL. ‘Finish your soup’: Counterproductive effects of pressuring children to eat on intake and affect. Appetite (2006)

Chilman L., Kennedy-Behr, A.,. Frakking, T., Swanepoel, L., Verdonck, M. Picky Eating in Children: A Scoping Review to Examine Its Intrinsic and Extrinsic Features and How They Relate to Identification.Int J Environ Res Public Health (2021)


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