Choose Your Own Food Adventure

Watermelon Pizza

Watermelon Pizza – CWK photo Library

How choices can help reframe picky eating

By Rachel Shreve

As you might imagine, providing cooking classes to more than 6,000 public school kids throughout Northern New Mexico means our Cooking with Kids educators have encountered a wide variety of eating preferences. We love to talk about likes and dislikes. Talking with kids about preferences (rather than “pickiness”) allows some wiggle room for kids to explore. It opens the door to the idea that everyone is allowed different likes and dislikes—and the idea that those preferences can change.

These changes may take time, but there are a couple of things we’ve discovered that can help along the way. For example, throughout the school year, we cook a variety of foods in a variety of ways. One student might like the fresh tomatoes of salsa fresca, while another student prefers cooked tomatoes in the sauce for fettuccine. Or one child may prefer carrots cooked in ginger-soy broth and another may like carrots seasoned with cumin and coriander. Another student may not like tomatoes or carrots at all. These are all equally important discoveries—especially if they are not assigned value. Liking a food is not better than disliking a food.

Allowing kids to choose what they want to taste also has a positive effect. It’s not uncommon for a kindergartner to go the entire school year without ever taking a single bite of food in Cooking with Kids. This, too, is a preference—and it’s OK. In the meantime, they get their hands messy kneading tortilla dough, mashing beans, peeling cucumbers, or tearing up basil leaves. With each fun hands-on experience, new foods become a little less strange and scary and a little closer to something they might just want to eat—as long as the choice always remains entirely theirs.

Making Hummus in CWK

Making Hummus in CWK Cooking Class. Credit: Kerry Sherck

Patience and consistency pay off. Here are some things we heard this year from our 5th and 6th grade seasoned tasters, who have participated in Cooking with Kids throughout the span of their time in elementary school: 

“Even though I made this hummus, I didn’t think I was going to like it, but I learned that it takes several times to try a new food, so I bit it seven times and guess what? Now I like hummus!”

“I tried foods from different places, which I thought I would not like, but did!”

“I have enjoyed so many new foods from around the world and better yet I have become a much braver person. I used to be really picky.”

If you have a little one (or a not-so-little one) at home who is actively choosing to refuse, hang in there. In the meantime, consider finding ways to invite them into the kitchen that will allow them to explore and be creative. Here are a couple of recipes that present choices as an active part of the process.

Scooping Mango in CWK Cooking

Making Hummus in CWK Cooking Class. Credit: Kerry Sherck

infused water

Infused Water

Kids love to come up with their own combinations—mix and match from the list in the box to discover your favorites. Not sure where to start? Some of our favorites are strawberry-basil, cucumber-lime, and watermelon-mint.

Here are the basics to making infused water:

  • Add sliced fruits and herbs to a glass or pitcher of cold water.
  • Gently crush the herbs to release their aroma and flavor.
  • Keep a pitcher of infused water in your fridge to make drinking water a special treat.
  • Strain before you store. Some fruits—especially citrus—can add a bitter taste if left in the water too long.

    Find Your Favorite Flavors

    • Basil Leaves
    • Blueberries
    • Cantaloupe
    • Cucumbers
    • Grapefruits
    • Lemons
    • Limes
    • Mint Leaves
    • Oranges
    • Pineapple
    • Pomegranate
    • Rosemary Sprigs
    • Strawberries
    • Watermelon
    infused water
    watermelon pizza

    Watermelon Pizza

    Here’s a fun and creative way to make and eat a fruit salad! Kids can also take the eat-a-rainbow challenge by choosing a variety of colorful fruit toppings to add to their watermelon pizza. Make as many slices as you like.

    Watermelon Pizza

    For each slice of pizza:

    • 1 triangular wedge of watermelon (rind on)
    • Your choice of fruit toppings (see below for ideas)
    • Shredded coconut, optional
    • 1 small lime wedge

      Choose your fruit toppings:

      • Bananas
      • Blackberries
      • Blueberries
      • Grapes
      • Mandarin oranges
      • Mango
      • Raspberries
      • Strawberries


      • Slice up the fruit. If using berries or grapes, make sure to cut them in half (or slice if they are big enough) so they don’t roll off of your pizza.
      • Place toppings on your watermelon slice.
      • Sprinkle with shredded coconut and a squeeze of lime, and enjoy.

      Adventures in Hummus

      The word “hummus” means chickpea in Arabic, but chickpeas are just a jumping-off point for what you can do with this delicious, protein-rich dip. Here’s a formula for putting your family’s own personal spin on a basic hummus recipe.

      1. Start with one 15-ounce can of legumes. Choose from chickpeas, black beans, white beans, pinto beans, red lentils, or yellow lentils.
      2. Add up to ½ cup of tasty extras (optional). Choose from roasted red bell peppers or eggplant, cooked sweet potatoes, fresh or roasted green chile, calabacitas, canned or frozen corn, spinach, or other cooked greens.
      3. Add 3 tablespoons of liquid. Choose from lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar.
      4. Have fun with flavor! Choose one or more of the ingredients listed here. Start with the suggested measurements below and then increase to taste.

      Ideas for Adding Flavor:

      1 tablespoon: tahini, minced garlic, minced fresh parsley

      1 teaspoon: tajin, curry powder, garam masala

      ½ teaspoon: ground cumin, red chile powder, green chile powder, dried thyme, dried oregano

      1. Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt.

      6. Blend everything together. If hummus is too thick, add a little bit of water, one tablespoon at a time, until you get the desired consistency.

      Too many choices? Go back to basics with this no-frills hummus recipe we recently made in our cooking classes.

      Basic Hummus

      • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans
      • 2 tablespoons liquid from the canned garbanzos (drain the remaining liquid)
      • 1 garlic clove, minced
      • 1 tablespoon tahini, optional
      • 3 tablespoons olive oil
      • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
      • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
      • ¼ teaspoon salt


      In a bowl, use a potato masher to mash the garbanzo beans until they are almost smooth. Stir in the remaining ingredients and mix until well combined.

      A couple of homemade hummus tips: Kids love to mash. However, you can also use a blender, food processor, or immersion blender to puree whichever legumes you choose to use. Spread hummus on crackers or flatbread or enjoy as a dip with carrots, celery, bell pepper, snap peas, or other favorite vegetables.

      Rachel Shreve is the communications director for Cooking with Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides nutrition education programs in school classrooms and cafeterias in Rio Arriba, San Miguel, and Santa Fe Counties. Visit for kid-tested recipes, how-to videos, and other resources.


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