Kid reluctant to eat? Add sprinkles!

Jenny Blackburn, author of the Adventures in Parenting blog at the Seattle P-I website, shares her picky kid secret:

We've finally happened onto the perfect solution to get our 3 year old son to eat… I keep a bottle of sprinkles — the kind you put on sugar cookies– and let him shake some on his food.  From yogurt to oatmeal to chicken (yes, I'm afraid it's true), it's the perfect antidote to this toddler's natural reticence to eat.

Oy, the things we do to get our kids to eat.

Related: 'Gateway' foods entice finicky eaters (see the comments)


  1. Marsha says

    What is it with toddlers and sprinkling things? (I think sprinkles are the food equivalent of stickers!)

    We’ve had luck with letting our two-year-old sprinkle grated parmesan cheese on her food. It’s a bit healthier than sugar sprinkles, though nowhere near as colorful, I’m sure!

  2. snarflemarfle says

    Oh really? I hand’t thought of sprinkles or parmesan cheese. I just might try that at lunch today (but with parmesan since I love me sprinkles!).

    I’ll let you know how it works!

  3. Geoff says

    my kids (all three of them, different ages) love frozen peas – we just pour then straight from the bag onto their plates. they even fight over the “chunks.” outside of getting them to eat something green, it has the added bonus that we don’t need to use (and clean) an extra pot.

  4. Catherine says

    Love the frozen peas trick!

    I’m waiting for the sourpuss who will inevitably post a comment about the evils of refined sugar and artificial coloring. I say, if a fraction of a teaspoon of sprinkle gets a serving of broccoli down the hatch, go for it.

  5. T. Carter says

    Parmesan works with my oldest (nearing in on 3 years) … but we have to call it “snow cheese.”

  6. Jill in Atlanta says

    We use cinnamon sugar, colored sugars, colored sprinkles, parmesan cheese, black pepper, and anything they can use as a dip. That half banana no one wanted to finish? Sprinkle cinnamon on it! Plus, don’t underestimate simply cutting something in a novel way- an apple sliced along the equator is cool!

  7. Liz says

    Sprinkles in our house is a jar of sesame seeds and little bits of nori (seweed) from the Japanese food store. The kids love it on rice, and it is a fun way to liven up other food too.

    Just one more thing to add to the list of potiential sprinkles.

  8. Jen says

    Our kid loves ketchup – she will eat anything with ketchup on it. Even pb&j gets a light spread of ketchup – honey & powerdered sugar are also crowd pleasers (thanks to my parents)

  9. lazza b says

    my mom’s friends used to cringe when they saw her pour frozen beans and peas on our plates, but we’d even eat brussel sprouts frozen. she stood by this, and said that we’d be getting even more nutrients without boiling the vitamins away by eating them frozen. i still eat some of my veggies frozen! peas are the best!

    another good trick along the sprinkles route is to cut the very tips off of broccoli and put them in a parmesan type shaker, so they look like green sprinkles. then the kids can sprinkle away and get even MORE veg in the diet. the minimal bits mean that they have very little taste of broccoli and look cool.

    also, who said that a little food dye would hurt. purple parsnips or pink potatoes are much more fun.

  10. Holly says

    Apparently my name is really “sourpuss” (and that must also be what the secret name is for the AAP and my pediatricians)! Yeehaw! Yes, sprinkling food with sugar, or encouraging dipping vegies into dips like ranch and ketchup,is very unhealthy. Please consider the obesity epidemic among small children these days! Apparently I am a sourpuss because it took me eight years to get pregnant because I wasn’t taught how to eat well and was allowed to have that kind of stuff on my food daily, which cause me to be obese and have problems with fertility. Fortunately I have a child who happens to love vegetables, THANKFULLY, without all the added sugar. But I would never call anybody “careless” because they do get their child to eat with added sugar even if I have seen the downfalls of this method with my own overweight niece and nephew. Sometimes there is no other way to get them to eat vegies! Aren’t we all in this together and know what’s best for our own children? I think the sesame seeds, nori and parmesan are great substitutions for sugary dips and condiments if you can make that work instead.

  11. Anita says

    I agree with the above post. I actually clicked on the link to post my disagreement (I get updates emailed to me) then read the comments and thought about declining. Yes, I must be a sourpuss. Thanks so much for discouraging those who disagree with you to post anything. Now, for my opinion, you can read it if you want or just ignore it, your prerogative. I agree that we have to find creative ways to get our kids to eat different foods, but sprinkling everything with sugar? I like the parmesan cheese idea, that’s at least healthier (as long as it’s not too much), but I refuse to allow my children to develop such habits. It just leads to a life of unhealthy eating habits and and alarming increase in obesity rates. That’s my opinion, take it or leave it. Thanks for listening to my rant.

  12. Laura says

    Thanks for this hack! I tried it this very day, and the 2-year-old ate two whole slices of turkey. Usually he eats the cheese and picks at the turkey. Big sister tried it too, but prefers her turkey plain.

  13. Jill in Atlanta says

    To anyone who is concerned about the excess sugar in this hack: I measured the amount of sprinkles I put on my son’s banana today. There was significantly less than 1/8 teaspoon. The taste was banana, the look was fun. My son also found that raspberry vinegar was just as good as ranch dressing and has now branched out to any salad dressing. These are hacks to help children agree to try new items (or in my case, finish what they’ve started). No one keeps sprinkling sugar on broccoli forever; we do it a few times to encourage improved eating habits. The sprinkles fade away as the food becomes familiar and more liked.

    Isn’t putting butter or seasonings on food the same hack we do for ourselves? The difference is only the choice of condiments. If kid-friendly condiments make broccoli a kid-friendly food and encourages a life of broccoli eating, then wasn’t the 1/8 teaspoon of sugar at age three worthwhile?

  14. Anita B says

    As I said before, I don’t have a problem with other condiments like Parmesan cheese or a little ranch even. I just completely disagree with the sugar. Yes, in some cases your theory works (just using it a few times to get the child accustomed to the new food), but in too many instances, this is not the case. I have seen so many children with so many awful eating habits (I teach) that it just reminds me more and more how it’s our responsibility as parents to teach our children the right way from the start. I do allow my children the occasional sweet, so it’s not forbidden food, it’s just not readily available in my house. Ultimately, my kids have turned out alright. They don’t reach for crap food first and they like to try new things. I’m not saying that this works for everyone, I just really worry about all those kids out there who don’t know how to eat right. They just seem doomed to a life of obesity and it’s getting worse every year.

  15. todd says

    I’m a sourpuss, too. This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. This does nothing more than teach kids that certain foods are so awful that they can only be eaten when their flavors are masked by something “good.” Our job as parents is to raise healthy kids that can take care of themselves; we shouldn’t be aiming simply to survive and avoid conflict until our kids leave home. Tips like this I call lazy parenting.

    Want kids to eat healthy food? Don’t give them junk food. It’s amazing what a hungry person will eat.

  16. travelina says

    I used to sprinkle wheat germ on my kids’ yogurt for extra nutrition, but I knew they wouldn’t eat it if I called it “wheat germ,” so I called it “crunchies” instead. My kids always asked for crunchies on their yogurt.

  17. Liz says

    Another sprinkle possibility- ground up nuts. We get ground up almonds from the baking section of Trader Joes and add them to smoothies, steel cut oats, etc. to boost the protien. Kids will often ask for a bowl of them with a spoon, so it might work as a fun sprinkle as well.

    A little bit of popcorn salt on broccoli makes it more appealing to our 6 year old as well, but it has to be popcorn salt, not regular salt. Go figure!

  18. none says

    I’m not getting the outrage at candy sprinkles… in 1/8 tsp they’re getting maybe 3 calories and I doubt that that’s enough to raise their blood sugar much. It’s great to see all the different ideas for sprinkles, though, mostly because sprinkles on chicken makes me cringe. :P

  19. hedra says

    We use greek seasoning mix for sprinkles. They pretty much coat the plates with it (2 1/2 year old twins), and end up smelling of garlic and mint everywhere (even the diapers) the next day… but they love it.

    They want to salt everything, too. It is really a control issue at this age, and anything they can CONTROL in their food is a help. Dips were recommended by the feeding clinic, so I’m not sure they’re a problem (less is consumed if you dip than if you pour, in general – try it with salads!).

    The sprinkles can also be granola bits, nuts for kids old enough to eat them, mixed seeds (love the sesame/nori idea!), etc. And I’m not sure I’d object to the colored sprinkles much, myself – if they’re not eating a lot of sugary stuff in general, it is unlikely to cause a significant dietary impact. JMHO, but hey, I’ll take ANYTHING that will make eating more fun for my oldest (the one with the feeding disorder). And the mixed textures thing is probably good practice, too. Maybe have more than one sprinkles option, and let them play/dip, try, explore.

  20. Anita says

    My outrage (not sure I would call it that, but ok) is not against the calories or fat intake at this point, it’s the fact that sprinkling sugar or candy sprinkles on food is setting your children up for bad habits later on in life. I have said before that I wouldn’t mind Parmesan, nuts, or other healthy choices (in moderation, of course-I like the dipping idea, I do that myself), I just don’t like the idea of candy or sugar going on food to make it more appealing to eat. I guess I just come from a background that used techniques such as this and it has lead me down a very dark road. From being overweight, to years of anorexia/bulimia, and then back to obesity. It’s taken me 32 years to figure out how to eat properly and to develop good exercising habits. It took the birth of my son to do so, but I feel that I’m now on the right track. I just don’t want my children to have to struggle the same way I did. Once again, if it’s not available, they won’t eat it! All in all, if that’s what you want to do with your kids, so be it, nothing any one of us “sourpusses” is going to change that. We would just like you to think about the long-term affects before making that decision. You might not think there will be any, but I’m here to tell you that it’s a great possibility-probability!

  21. hedra says

    IMHO, it is the reasons for the method that are the issue, not the method itself. Food culture can be a big nasty mess, and what seems a small thing (sprinkles) can definitely be just one method to teach kids to ignore their bodies and eat for reasons other than hunger and nutrition. Food culture is a huge source of problems in the US, certainly!

    So, I guess I’d say ‘before you sprinkle, ask yourself why it is important to do so’ – why exactly is it necessary? Is it always necessary or is it just easier? Does it releive parental stress, or does it make the child more able to control their life? Is this so I’m more comfortable, or so they are more healthy?

    I know that many of my feeding mistakes were made trying to reduce the anxiety *I* had over what and how much my child was eating. In my case, they were based in reality (though I had no grounds for knowing that initially) – my child really wasn’t eating a normal diet, and it was enough to affect his health, and he ended up in a feeding clinic. For most families, with picky eaters or not, there’s no health risk involved – but we still have the same anxieties. Are they growing well, eating enough, eating the right things, getting what they need? And we don’t usually have good ways of measuring that – not without a trip to a feeding clinic.

    I highly recommend the My Pyramid (CDC site) Tracker, for determining how much a person (any age) actually is getting, nutritionally. I was SHOCKED that even with the severely restricted diet my son had, he was getting nearly everything he needed (as determined by the pediatric nutritionist at the clinic). The portion size is miniscule compared to what we think it should be (at least in the US). Useful to keep that in mind when considering the sprinkles.

  22. Rochelle says

    I understand that adding sugar isn’t good, but it’s not the sugar making it taste any better, it’s the fact that there’s some fun colors on it that makes my kids think it’s yummy when they’re in a funk. It’s such a small amount (I don’t even think I use 1/8 of a teaspoon!), that if they’re eating foods that are good for them and really just tasting the food (not the sprinkles). I don’t see how people can blame us for teaching such “horrible” habits. I’ve done it a handful of times when my girls don’t want to eat their veggies and the next few times, they will eat it without sprinkles and without a complaint. It’s not as if we’re deep frying it to make it taste better or coating it in butter.
    I’m sorry that some of you grew up eating junk, but once you’re old enough to think for yourself, you know what you should and shouldn’t eat. If we put a couple sprinkles on our kids’ veggies, but make it a point to tell them how good veggies are for them (that’s the whole point of doing it), then they’ll have the values of eating what’s healthy. (And once they’re older, they’ll probably think that it was weird that they used to like it with sprinkles.)

    On a side note, we do the frozen peas thing, too. My older daughter (3 1/2 years old) is a mustard freak and loves a snack of frozen peas with mustard squirted on it. I think it’s nasty, but she loves it. We also do some dipping, but it’s usually in something like tomato sauce or my youngest (15 months old), likes baby food veggies, so I let her dip other veggies in it.

    The point is to get the kids to eat the veggies, what’s so horrible about that?

  23. Anita says

    Well, yes, some of us did grow up eating junk, and yes, once we’re old enough we know (or should know) what we should and shouldn’t eat. But I know some of you had a bad habit that you learned as a child and had a hard time breaking it (or you still do it and are still trying to break it). The knowledge is there, but bad habits can be very hard to break. I don’t care what kind of habit it is, a strong willpower to change it doesn’t always work. I’m not saying that every child who gets sprinkles or other crap on their food is going to grow up and have eating disorders or an unhealthy relationship with food. Every child is different. I’m just asking you to please think before you do something like that out of convenience. There are other ways to teach you children about good nutrition, (the best one being to model that behavior-it might take a while, but eventually it will sink in). But for some children, these bad habits are going to dictate the rest of their lives and I, for one, would just like to see a better and fitter America for all. Developing good eating habits starts at home and what you do now will have an impact on your children. Just think about it.

    As another side note, I do like the idea of dipping veggies in the baby food. It’s a very unique idea and much healthier than dips like ranch or other fatty dressings.

  24. reb says

    My mom used the sprinkles trick to encourage me to eat my oatmeal in the 70’s. We always called them “pretties.” I have grown up to love oatmeal (sans sprinkles) and to practice a healthy diet. I credit my preference for healthy food to my mom who often avoided power struggles over eating and who found ways to make healthy foods available, palatable and interesting to her kids. My daughter now loves oatmeal, and sprinkles are just one of the many ways she’ll eat it. I am also pretty sure that a few sprinkles on plain oatmeal contains much less sugar than the flavored instant varieties that many folks choose instead of the real thing.

  25. reb says

    My mom used the sprinkles trick to encourage me to eat my oatmeal in the 70’s. We always called them “pretties.” I have grown up to love oatmeal (sans sprinkles) and to practice a healthy diet. I credit my preference for healthy food to my mom who often avoided power struggles over eating and who found ways to make healthy foods available, palatable and interesting to her kids. My daughter now loves oatmeal, and sprinkles are just one of the many ways she’ll eat it. I am also pretty sure that a few sprinkles on plain oatmeal contains much less sugar than the flavored instant varieties that many folks choose instead of the real thing.