What is it about tomatoes that makes them so "icky" to so many kids? My husband refused to eat a raw tomato until he was out of college. My oldest will eat a them like an apple, but my youngest is a little more weary. Personally, I love a fresh, ripe tomato grown in season, but you have to work very hard to get me to eat one raw if it's not the "tomato time of year".
For kids who are super hesitant about eating tomatoes, you may first need to understand why. Is it the surprise burst of juice and seeds? Is it the squishy inside or the hard flesh? Letting your kids experiment with touching and tasting these two parts separately to see which gives them pause. Once you better understand what holds them back, you can find the right combination and recipe that will help you bring tomatoes into your regular mealtime rotation.
Fresh ripe tomatoes are sweet and bursting with flavor, but eaten out of season they can be mealy and bland. Not great for eating raw. So depending on when you're tasting our tomatoes, there are different strategies that might work in your favor. Some of our favorite ways for using tomatoes are below.
Fresh in salads or pasta. Caprese is a hands down favorite in our house. Fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and basil with olive oil and balsamic vinegar ... how can you go wrong?! The cheese helps encourage cheese lovers in your house and if you use smaller - cherry or grape - tomatoes they won't overpower the rest of the ingredients. Experiment with different colored tomatoes, too, for visual variety. You could even get creative with how you make the caprese - like putting all the ingredients on a skewer (watch the sharp ends, of course, with your littlest eaters).
We also love the fresh tomato and corn pasta recipe from Food 52 editors' A New Way to Dinner. If your kids are not yet fans of tomatoes, let them eat around the blistered tomatoes in the pasta (but having them in there is a great introduction nonetheless).
Grow them. Watching your tomato plant grow and bear fruit is very rewarding, and gives your littles lots of time to ponder the potential for actually putting it in their mouths. Cherry and sungold tomatoes are the perfect size for snacking (but cut them in half for babes).
Have a taste test. Our local farmer's market does a tomato tasting every summer and It. Is. Magical. But you don't need a farmer's market - or even a lot of different tomatoes. Two or three varieties is enough to start to explore differences. Try the tomato without the inside seeds. Try eating just the seeds. Taste a red tomato and a yellow one. While you're tasting, use this list of descriptive words for food to give your kids additional language to describe their experience!
Salsa time. Whether chopped, diced, or blended, tomatoes that are less than ideal for eating raw can still make a delicious base for salsa. Salsa is forgiving. Salsa understands. Salsa is always there for you when you need a good plate of nachos.
Pasta sauce. I challenge you to show me a kid who doesn't like pasta - or at least tolerate it. For this simple fact, pasta sauce is an easy way to introduce tomatoes to your kiddos. We're fans of telling our kids what they are eating - not trying to sneak veggies into their meals without their knowledge - so don't hide that the sauce they love comes from a food they don't. (Although, if you want to wait until they are several bites in and already showing you they love it, that would be okay.)
Color them. Seriously. For really reluctant tasters, just getting your kid to touch a picture of a tomato should be considered a win! Print off a bunch of tomato pictures and your kids color away. (This lesson on Tomatoes for Farm To Preschool has a printable and great lessons for how to talk about - and plant - tomatoes as they grow).
Let them eat soup. Tomato soup (with a good old fashion grilled cheese sandwich, oyster crackers (my dad's favorite) or ... and I'm not kidding ... POPCORN) is a fabulous way to enjoy the ripe flavor of tomatoes without needing to deal with the surprise pops of juice or mushy flesh that prevents your kiddos from eating the whole fruit.