It sounds counter intuitive, doesn’t it? You want your child to eat a healthier diet and yet I am about to recommend a food item that we usually associate with having absolutely no nutritional value – sprinkles!
My use of sprinkles is not haphazard. I have put plenty of thought into it based on years of research, insights and experience - so let me share five important reasons why sprinkles are one of the best tricks when introducing your fussy eater to new foods.
1. Sprinkles bring the fun back to mealtimes
I often start with typical sprinkles such as 100s and 1000s. These clearly have no nutritional value, but my end goal is of course not just to get your child to eat these tiny balls of sugar!
Sprinkles represent fun and celebration and most children have positive associations with them. Very few children have been pressured to eat sprinkles in the past. This means that children are generally happy to engage with them and they are interested in them.
As the parent of any fussy eater knows all too well – mealtimes can often be stressful, anxious and approached with trepidation, both on behalf of the parent and the child. By incorporating colourful, fun sprinkles into food presentation it brings back an important sense of fun, which is so vital to our fussy eaters feeling comfortable at the dinner table.
2. Sprinkles can encourage exploration
When we introduce a new food to a child with a restricted diet our first goal is to get the child to look at the food, to touch it, smell it and become familiar with it. The sprinkles on top will often help pique their interest and get the interaction started. It makes the activity with the food fun and worthwhile for the child.
An example of this may be hiding a blue sprinkle in a piece of broccoli or getting them to dip a familiar food into a non-familiar food and then double dip it into sprinkles.
This all helps open the possibility of exploring a food that may otherwise have been rejected the moment it was presented to the child.
3. Using sprinkles gives fussy eaters a sense of control
Children are often happy to dip into sprinkles or to add sprinkles. Because they are motivated to do this, they learn that they are in control of where on their plate the sprinkles go and how many they get.
Fussy eaters love to be in control of their food interactions and are much more likely to try something if they feel it is on their terms.
4. Sprinkles are a fantastic stepping stone
Once a child is familiar with what I call the “sprinkle concept” – they know sprinkles mean small pieces and that they are in control of them - I can introduce other food in the same small sprinkle format.
At this stage the “sprinkle” foods are often the goal foods. For example, I may use LSA mix or chia seeds to add some nutrition to a favourite meal. These are super easy for the parent and for the child, as they are already the right shape and size. Children can dip into them, they can scoop them up or they can sprinkle them on top of another food.
I also then use this concept to introduce other foods. Any dry crunchy food can be sprinkled by turning it into crumbs, while other foods can be turned into sprinkles by dicing finely.
As long as they are presented on the side for the child to add, it fits the sprinkle concept. For example, I “sprinkle” cucumber, zucchini, carrot - whatever food you like!
5. Sprinkles are non-confrontational
Size does matter. If you offer a child a large serve of a new food they are much less likely to try it than if you offer a small piece.
Just as with most things in life, starting with small steps makes the task much more achievable. If I haven’t been running for a while and a friend asks if I want to join them on a 10km fun run next week my answer will be a quick and definite no. However, if that friend started by asking me to join them on a short walk I would be much more likely to consider and agree to it.
If we offer a child a whole apple when they have never tasted an apple it can be incredibly intimidating. But if we put a few pieces of grated apple – “sprinkles” of apple - on a plate with a few familiar foods they are much more likely to consider it or even try it.
The best thing about sprinkles is that it’s also easy to add more, or increase the size of the sprinkled food as your fussy eater’s confidence grows.
The sprinkle concept to fussy eating
The sprinkle concept is all about giving the child some much-needed control over their food choices, while providing them with fun ways to try approachable amounts of foods if, and when, they’re ready.
So, although your child will (hopefully) see the introduction of sprinkles as fun and maybe even a treat, we know sprinkles are a way to introduce something that doesn’t have negative associations, that is small in size and so not intimidating, and that the child can control.
While some may see only food colouring and sugar, I see as a gateway to introducing your child to any food you choose. Even better – it can introduce your child to a variety of foods, which is the most important way our children can experience a healthy relationship with food, get all the nutrients they need and gain confidence in social settings and during family mealtimes.