Tyler Florence On Picky Kids, Real Food, and Why Hot Dogs Can Sometimes Do the Trick

Tyler Florence talks picky eating tricks and incorporating vegetables into kids' meals.

Ten years ago, Tyler helped co-found Sprout Organic Foods out of his New York City apartment. After Tyler witnessed a friend struggle to find food that was both nourishing and delicious food to feed her toddler, Sprout was born. Tyler quickly whipped up some steamed and pureed carrots, which his friend's son gobbled down with delight.

"Children have 10 times the ability to taste as adults do, so it's important that we start getting them accustomed to good food early on in their life," Tyler says. "They'll make sure to give you clues as to what they don't like," he adds with a laugh, as he's had to accommodate his three children's developing tastes.

A conversation with a friend, who happened to be a pediatrician, also clued Tyler in to a surprising fact: If kids aren't introduced to certain foods before the age of 3, their response to new things is often a fight-or-flight reaction. Essentially, children think strange-tasting things, like a weird new vegetable, might hurt them.

So how do we start kids down a path to tasty success? Tyler suggests jumping in to a vegetable-based diet as soon as possible. His favorite cooking technique—roasting—helps, too.

"You can roast any vegetable and it tastes amazing. Everyone has a sheet pan, a knife, and some olive oil. Roasting helps bring out the natural sweetness and caramelization of almost any vegetable."

If bombarding your kid with too many new foods seems worrisome, Tyler suggests incorporating what they already like with something unfamiliar to them. At home, Tyler slices up hot dogs (preferably those without preservatives, such as Ball Park Park's Finest, a brand that Tyler works with), and pairs them with fresh vegetables and scrambled eggs. His family also charts what his three kids like and don't like, with a hope to constantly shrink the "dislike" side over time.

"Adult food can be kids' food—it doesn't have to be separate," he says. "Pull kids into the decision-making process, and have a meaningful discussion about dinner. It can be scary for them to be surprised by what's on the table. And don't let them throw a tantrum and spoil dinner for everyone!"

The chart is also helpful in tracking how kids' tastes change; if they dislike something they once liked, Tyler posits the question: "If you liked it before, why is it that you don't like it now?" Talking about this, he says, can make a meaningful impact in the way kids think about food.

As for the future, Tyler is keeping up his presence in the food world—for adults and kids. He's helping spearhead a new app called Yumavore, which will allow users to share their custom recipes and pictures all in one platform (think of it like a curated food blog!). Look out for its launch in October of 2015. And while you're at it, check out the new season of Tyler's show The Great Food Truck Race, premiering on Sunday, August 23 on The Food Network.

Brooke Bunce is an editorial assistant at Parents and a native Ohioian stuck in the city. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Here are three healthy ways to please a picky eater.

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