MPR News host Kerri Miller is the first to admit she's a picky eater. So when 13-year-old chef Milo Fleming, of St. Paul, told her he once ate a recently-dead-but-still-moving shrimp at a sushi restaurant, she was flabbergasted. "With no hesitation, you put that in your mouth and you ate it?" Miller asked Fleming on this week's Friday round table. "It was delicious, yeah," said Fleming.
While eating live seafood is certainly adventurous, picky eaters don't have to be willing to go that far to expand their palates. Here's some advice from this week's round table guests, which include Fleming, who was a top three finalist for "Top Chef, Jr." in January 2018; Ed Jenkins, the host of the web series, "Lalo's Lunchbox," and Tricia Armstrong, a speech pathologist at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, where she specializes in working with infants and children with feeding difficulties:
1. Explore the senses.If you want kids to try a new food, you may have to rethink what it means to "try." Eating "is a very sensory experience," said Armstrong. "And you have to use all your senses to really become a strong eater." If you're trying to get a kid to eat an apple, for example, ask them to look at the apple, and tell you what they see. Then slice open the apple and ask them what they notice about the inside. Ask them to smell the apple. Then hold it. Putting the apple in their mouth is the last step. If they won't put it in their mouth, "We kiss it," Armstrong said. "We kiss it and put it in the 'all done bowl.'" Swallowing is the goal but consider it a win if you've gotten through any of these steps.
2. No more "clean plate club."Forcing kids to eat everything on their plates adds pressure and can take the fun out of meal time. "You have to eat an age-appropriate serving, absolutely, but you don't necessarily have to clean your plate," Armstrong said. "I'm a firm believer in letting kids regulate their appetite as much as they can because we have to be careful not to encourage overeating." She recommended asking kids to take as many bites as their age in years. If you're two years old, for example, take two bites. And if you choose to have more, you can. "It switches the reward to being done rather than, 'if you eat this, you can have the ice cream,'" said Armstrong.
3. Language matters.The words we use to describe foods can affect how kids think about eating, said Jenkins. Discourage the use of words like "icky" and "yucky." Instead of "I hate that," go with, "That's not my favorite." Armstrong recommended explaining what the foods are on the plate, and why they're important. It's important to talk about the food and take time to explain what it is, rather than just saying "eat this."
4. Structure helps.Jenkins cited famed child nutrition expert Ellyn Satter, who recommends clear roles for parents and children at meal times. Parents get to decide the what, where, and when of feeding, and children get to decide how much, and whether to eat what's in front of them. Jenkins also said it's a good idea to have set meal times. If children know that every day dinner time is at 5:30 p.m., it's easier to avoid filling up on snacks beforehand and not being hungry enough to try new foods.
5. Get kids involved in the process.When kids play a role in meal preparation, they may be more willing to try new foods. That can be as simple as peeling an orange, said Armstrong. "I've worked with kids in the past that have no idea that an orange is the same as a pack of [processed] mandarin oranges," Armstrong said. Taking kids with you to the grocery store, while it's not always efficient, can be a great way to get kids to appreciate the food on their plates. Fleming recommended exploring local markets. "If I go to Target, they're going to have a packet of basil and it's going to be $4 for a pack of like 4 leaves and it's going to taste like nothing. But I could go to the Hmong market and get Thai basil and it's like $1.50 and it's like this explosion of flavor in your mouth."
• Bonus: Here's the chicken, bacon and sauerkraut recipe Milo cooks with his family.
Use the audio player above to hear the full segment.
Correction (May 11, 2018): An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the name of Ed Jenkins. It has been corrected.