The beige diet is familiar to parents of picky eaters. It consists of, you guessed it, beige foods, and tends to include mostly refined carbs that are highly processed.
Beige foods tend to be comfort foods and snack foods such as mac & cheese, chicken nuggets, chips, and crackers. These foods tend to have subtle flavors and are easy to chew and swallow.
The beige diet may also consist of white or some orange or yellow foods as well (like goldfish crackers and cheese for example).
Why Do Kids Love Beige Foods?
If it seems like every child you know is obsessed with chicken nuggets and French fries, it’s because they are! I even wrote a whole article dedicated to Why Kids Love Chicken Nuggets.
After many years of doing feeding therapy and interviewing hundreds of parents about their child’s favorite foods, I have seen that even the pickiest of eaters tend to have a few foods in common with most children. And those foods are almost always beige!
Because many beige foods are highly processed, they have a reliable taste and texture. Unlike a blueberry that may sometimes be firm and sweet and other times mushy and sour, cheerios always taste the same. For a more sensitive child, fresh foods (especially fruits & veggies) can be scary because they are slightly different every time.
As mentioned above, beige foods are often highly processed, which makes them easy to eat. For children with oral motor dysfunction, tongue tie, or weakness, these foods are especially desirable.
What is the Problem with Eating a Beige Diet?
Many beige foods are not the most nutritious. Cake, cookies, and donuts aren’t the healthiest choice. While fine in moderation, your child will likely be missing out on key nutrients if they are only eating beige foods. There are of course healthy, nutritious foods that are beige and we will talk about those too, keep reading!
Oral Motor Skills
Many beige foods are highly processed and easy to break down (think graham crackers, French fries, and pasta). They therefore don’t challenge the musculature and motor function of our mouths.
Our ancestors used to chew primarily raw foods and this is what our bodies were built to do. Using our mouths in this way helps to support proper jaw development which is important for eating, breathing, speaking, dentition, and overall health.
If you’re only eating foods that are easy to break down, you will struggle in the future if you try to eat steak or raw celery. Children that prefer beige foods will often avoid foods that are more challenging to eat and they likely don’t have the skills to do so easily.
Beige foods tend to carry a low sensory load. They have a more subtle flavor and texture which does not do much for our tactile and taste sensory systems. They also don’t provide much input to our proprioceptive system which controls force/pressure and provides us with a sense or body awareness.
Imagine the sensory impact of eating fresh pineapple. It’s sweet yet tart, has a mixed texture of solid and liquid, and is also fibrous and challenging to chew. You get a lot of sensory feedback from eating something like fresh pineapple. Compare that to eating a Ritz cracker that essentially dissolves in your mouth and does not really taste like much.
If your mouth gets used to subtle taste and texture, it will likely become averse to foods that provide a lot of sensory feedback, reinforcing the desire for beige foods.
Are There Healthy Beige Foods?
Of course! Not all beige foods are created equal. Peanuts, beans, and whole grains are beige but have many health benefits. Here is a list written by a dietician of 30 healthy beige and white foods. She includes pears, cauliflower, and white carrots on her list. These foods may work for children who are particular about color but less particular about texture.
For children that are extreme picky eaters, they likely won’t go for these options. So what can you do to help your child move on from pancakes and quesadillas?
How to Help Your Child Try New Foods
If your child is firmly stuck in their beige diet, there is a lot you can do to add variety to their diet without making color changes. In fact, the best way to make change is to move at a very slow pace.
Find foods that are as similar as possible to the ones your child already likes. This strategy is called Food Chaining and we have a whole article about it.
If your child loves crackers, expose them to as many crackers as you can think of. Each time you go grocery shopping, buy something just a little different.
If your child loves saltine crackers, buy a few different brands to start. Buy some that are salted and some that are unsalted. Then move on to Club crackers, a very similar option. Try other white crackers such as water crackers and butter crackers. Before you know it, you will have moved on to whole grain crackers, pretzels, and peanut butter sandwich crackers!
Food Prep Activities
Have your child help in whatever way they can when you are preparing a meal or snack. Can they pour or stir something? Can they help you chop the fruits or veggies? Kids love to cut because it’s such an adult task and makes them feel grown up. These Nylon knives are safe for kids age 4+. If your child is younger, this wooden knife is a great option. My son loves using it to help me chop softer foods.
When kids are focused on being helpful and learning new things, they are more motivated to interact with new foods. The more comfortable they get with touching new foods, the more likely that they will eventually eat them!
Food Play Activities
Playing is a great tool for reducing stress and anxiety around food. You could pretend an orange is a bowling pin and roll it to knock over blocks. Fingerpainting with sauces or purees is a great way to expose kids to something new.
Stringing ‘O’ cereal on a string or pipe cleaner is a fun fine motor activity that also encourages interacting with food. If they like Honey Nut Cheerios, try one of the many other Cheerios options to expose them to something a little different–Original, blueberry, chocolate, frosted, multigrain, apple cinnamon. If you think they’re ready for a bigger change, try something else like the Three Wishes brand which is made from chickpeas!
Don’t Pressure Your Child to Eat
Take the phrases “just try it”, “one more bite”, and “I’ll give you a cookie if you eat it” out of your vocabulary! Pressuring kids to eat may help in that individual moment but it increases the stress around eating overall and it’s not successful long term.
If you’re a parent, you must already know the strong will that many children have…It’s natural for children to want to make their own decisions. When they know how much we want them to do something, many children will want to do the opposite.
And if you happen to have a child who is more of a people pleaser, maybe they will take a bite of something because you want them to, but is that really a success? Your child won’t always be with you for every meal, and you want them to be able to eat a variety of foods (some day!) even when you’re not there. Focus on building a positive relationship between your child and food and eventually you can meet this goal.
It’s okay to include beige food in your child’s diet (as well as your own!). The problem is if this is all they ever eat for years on end. Making changes to food preferences takes time! Keep gently exposing your child to new foods and one day they just may take a bite!
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