New studies seem to pop up constantly demonstrating yet another way in which probiotics are vital to our health, from gut health to mental issues to the immune system. While supplements contain targeted types of bacteria, they can also be pricey.
Many probiotics are also transient, meaning that they travel through the system and supplements need to be taken for a long time. The best (and cheapest) way to get all those beneficial bugs is to include foods with probiotics with our daily meals.
Foods with probiotics are called fermented or cultured foods – foods that have been proliferated with bacteria that preserve and enhance the ingredients, even increasing vitamin content. Keep in mind, however, that not all fermented foods are necessarily probiotic (like alcoholic fermentation).
Fermented foods have been eaten for eons, as it was one of the few ways of preserving food through the seasons. As delicious as they are, however, most people aren't used to the distinctive sour taste that many probiotic containing foods have.
Kids especially can balk at eating classics like sauerkraut and kimchi. So what is a parent to do?
12 ways to get picky eaters to love probiotic foods
#1 – Hide it
The ‘juice' from ferments – a.k.a. brine – can be hidden in all sorts of foods. Use it in place of vinegar and salt when making salad dressings or dips, add it to soup after it's dished into bowls. Use it to make cultured condiments (see below) or even drinks. I've also heard that adding a little brine to smoothies is delicious.
One of my favorite methods for hiding probiotics is fermented onions, perfect in salads and spreads. When fermented, the onions are really mellow – I don't even like raw onions but fermented onions are delicious.
You could also grate or finely dice fermented carrots, cucumbers, or cauliflower (or any other vegetable) to add to a salad or a spread. A bean salad with bits of fermented cauliflower, tuna spread with diced pickles, or egg spread with onion is scrumptious.
#2 – Culture the condiments
Almost any condiment can get a major nutritional boost by mixing it with some brine and letting it sit. Condiments are also both easy to eat – because they are mixed with other foods – and they don't require any chewing.
I made cultured ketchup and watched with delight as my son liberally dipped everything in it. More ketchup, honey? Sure! It did get a little bubbly, but I just stirred it to get the bubbles out.
Many cultured condiment recipes call for whey, but I usually use leftover brine instead. You can make cultured salsa, hummus, relish, and mustard – the sky's the limit.
#3 – Ferment the drinks
Fermented drinks are easier for kids to consume because there are no texture issues involved and they are often sweeter and especially refreshing on a hot summer day. Many people have used fermented drinks to replace sugary soft drinks.
There are different ways to make fermented drinks. Some require a starter culture, like kombucha, milk kefir, and water kefir, that you must buy or obtain from a friend in order to begin. Another type of fermented drink is one where you make the starter yourself, like a ginger bug or kvass. And a third kind is made simply by mixing a probiotic liquid, usually brine or whey, with juice or flavoured water and letting the bacteria proliferate.
All of these fermented drinks can be flavored with any combination of fruit and even herb that you can think of. They can also be used, along with yogurt, to make smoothies and shakes.
My kids also love brine shots even though they aren't that enthusiastic about raw sauerkraut. They love getting to drink from the special little shot glasses and down the brine in a second – and ask for more.
Get the recipes:
Use kombucha to make pomegranate soda
Use a ginger bug to make root beer, apple ginger soda, or strawberry soda
Dairy free coconut milk kefir
#4 – Make the most liked ferments
As classic as sauerkraut is, it's not usually a good introductory ferment in terms of taste.
Fermented cauliflower is very mild and super easy to make. Carrots and dilly green beans are also crowd favourites.
Yogurt is also full of probiotics and easy to make – and even easier with a room temperature culture. You can also turn yogurt into cream cheese, full of beneficial goodies.
Fruit can also be fermented and it doesn't take as long as vegetables. This spiced apple chutney is not sour at all, and is divine mixed with some yogurt. Try fermenting berries and mashing them to make jam!
#5 – Cook it
Cooking fermented vegetables mellows out the sourness, making it easier for picky eaters to eat. While heat does kill probiotics, there is evidence that probiotics can still be beneficial when dead, sometimes even more so (study 1, study 2, study 3). At any rate, it helps taste buds transition to loving probiotic foods.
Throw some sauerkraut in next time you roast meat or sausages. Segedinsky gulash is a creamy stew made with sauerkraut; the dairy (or even coconut milk) further mellows the dish. When baked with potatoes and bacon, called strapachky, you can hardly tell that there is sauerkraut in the dish.
You can also chop up any fermented veggies, like carrots, and add it to a stir fry, soup, or casserole. Fermented potatoes make amazing fries (or poutine). You can even ferment slices of vegetables and dehydrate or bake them to make vegetable chips. Baked sourdough goodies are also fermented.
#6 – Make sweet fermented treats
A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down – we'll skip on the sugar but anything sweet does make the probiotics go down easier.
You can make kombucha jello snacks, cultured coconut popsicles, milk kefir ice cream, fermented soda popsicles, even cultured fruit leather.
#7 – Get kids involved
Kids are always more enthusiastic to eat something that they've had a hand in preparing. Measuring ingredients, cutting veggies (if old enough to handle a knife), and stirring are all ways that children can participate.
If you're really creative, you can even try making fun shapes by slicing veggies and cutting the slices with a cookie cutter. As the ferment progresses, check the jar each day with kids to see what has changed.
#8 – Model enthusiasm
If you're excited to eat fermented foods, your enthusiasm will be catching. If you yourself are hesitant about the taste, be honest, but be enthusiastic about trying these new foods. Make it an adventure to find the fermented food you all enjoy.
If someone in the house is downright negative about fermented foods, ask them to at least keep their complaints for parents' ears only (or to themselves).
A little fun goes a long way too – I got out the camera to take pictures for this post, and all four of my children were eager to pose and eat the sauerkraut.
Get out your phone and take pictures to show grandma or a health foodie friend how great the kids are at eating probiotic foods – kids will be glad to show it off.
#9 – Share the science
The process of fermentation is downright amazing, as are the benefits of probiotics on our health. Talking about how fermentation works makes it more interesting, double points if it sounds like a videogame as the good bugs kill the bad bugs.
If something is on television, somehow it becomes that much cooler. Enter The Magic Schoolbus: in season 2, episode 7, “In A Pickle”, Ms. Frizzle's class finds out all about how fermentation works. I was pleasantly surprised to see fermenting the subject of a cartoon. There is both the TV episode and a book available.
For older children and teens, fermented foods are a perfect subject for science experiments and fairs – changing pH over time, different temperatures, feeding a starter (ginger bug, sourdough, water kefir) with different types of sugar or flour, etc.
# 10 – Find the right combinations
Fermented foods, especially vegetables, can really shine when paired with certain foods.
- Fermented veggies, like sauerkraut, can give an extra pop to dishes with legumes, especially lentils.
- Probiotics survive better when paired with fat, so that might explain why fermented foods go so well with sausages, bacon, and other fatty meats. (source)
- Vegetables that are higher in starch, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, and cooked carrots, also help mellow out the sour flavour.
- Dairy also mellows – sprinkling some sauerkraut or kimchi into a grilled cheese sandwich is comfort food deluxe.
#11 – Get support
This one isn't so much for the picky eaters but for you, the one trying to get fermented foods into the picky eaters. Getting a picky eater to like foods with probiotics can take perseverance and is much easier when you have others on the same probiotic path supporting you.
Try to find a local fermenting group or workshop, sign up for an online course, or join a Facebook fermenting group. You can even start a local or online group yourself, you don't have to be an expert. Sharing ideas, venting frustrations, and celebrating victories with other like-minded people can help keep the enthusiasm strong.
#12 – Be patient
We want what is best for our family's health and so we want to eat all the probiotics, now. But it takes time for taste buds to adjust to new tastes and textures, especially if you've just started on the real food path.
The change will happen, especially if you are able to have one bite a day. Even then, your children may wolf down a fermented food one day and not even want to see it the next. Don't forget to be patient and celebrate the small victories.
What foods with probiotics do your kids like?
Or which will you try first?
The closest Naomi has gotten to her dream farm is growing live bacteria in jars and wrangling her four children, including twins. A Canadian who now lives in Slovakia, Naomi writes about traditions, food, and life in Slovakia (as well as some pretty strange food) at Almost Bananas.