Encouraging children to try new foods can be irksome – and let’s not forget thankless – tasks.
If you have pasta on repeat or cheese with everything because those are the only foods your children will happily eat, mealtimes can be hugely frustrating and dull on the palate.
However, a varied diet for children is crucial for their development, so it’s essential to introduce new ingredients and flavours where possible.
The food world is diverse and exciting, and trying new things can be just as interesting for parents as it can be for kids.
Going on a culinary journey together can help children engage with food, and looking outside your regular diet is a great idea – the globe is full of recipes waiting to be discovered!
Remember that introducing new foods isn’t just for young children.
As the teenage years unfold, children need more variety and nutrients than ever, and their taste buds will change – they’ll regularly find new tastes and textures to like or dislike.
No matter what age your child is, it’s never too early – or too late – to encourage them to try new food.
It is common for children to dislike a new food when it is first introduced.
Children tend to like foods that are already familiar to them and dislike foods unfamiliar to them, which is a normal part of development.
Although it may seem like your child is a fussy eater, they may just need to become more familiar with the food before they decide to try it.
Introduce new foods to children when they are young. Children are more likely to accept fresh foods when they are younger. However, it is more challenging to get children to buy new foods beyond toddlerhood.
The problem: The kid refuses to try new items.
Never ask your children to eat anything new! Settle for a taste. Or a touch. Or maybe even just a sniff.
When it comes to teaching kids to enjoy new foods, pressure is your enemy. And—at least from our kid’s perspective—being expected to eat something they’ve never tasted before is a lot of pressure.
The shift from eating to tasting may not seem like a big deal. Most parents think that’s what they’re doing when they say to their kids, “Just taste it, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”
But if you hear this statement from your child’s perspective—”If you do like it, you will have to eat it”—it’s easier to see why some kids balk.
Especially if you introduce new foods the way most parents do, by putting a big heap on the plate at dinner.
What if your child doesn’t want to eat it or even thinks he might not want to eat it? The safest course of action is not even to taste it.
So how do you teach your way to healthy eating? Start by answering this question: What does your child need to learn to eat differently? For most kids, the answer is some combination of the following lessons. How to:
- Feel safe tasting new foods
- Enjoy new flavours
- Cope with challenging textures
- Value the goal of eating fresh foods
- Develop the habit of eating different foods on different days.
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Ways to Encourage Children to Try New Foods
What can you do instead? Here are some tips to encourage children to try new food.
Make Tasting Fun
One surefire way to get kids psyched about trying new foods is to amp up the fun factor. You don’t always have to stick to healthy items such as asparagus and fish.
Go to the ice cream parlour, and sample new flavours of ice cream! Then, crack open a box of unfamiliar crackers!
We know that getting your kids to like more of these kinds of foods seems counterproductive, but it’s not. Instead, it will help change your children’s attitude towards new things, and that’s the goal.
Take the Surprise Out of New Foods
It takes a lot of courage to put something into your mouth when you know absolutely nothing about it, and the information most parents give their kids—”yum, this is good”—just doesn’t cut it.
Being able to make predictions is key to trying new foods. Practice telling your children as much as you can about whatever food you want them to taste. “This is crunchy like the chicken nuggets you like.” “This is sweet, almost like a cookie.”
Then, instead of asking your children if they like what they’ve tasted, ask them to describe something about the food.
Get Them in the Kitchen
There’s nothing like handling and combining ingredients to help children understand the foods they eat and to inspire them to be curious about the ingredients being used.
Younger children can help with weighing, mixing and measuring jobs, gaining more responsibility as they get older.
The more invested they are in preparing the meal, the more likely they are to eat it!
Try to Offer a Choice
Allow your child to choose between several different ingredients (try to include a familiar one) or a few other forms of the same element. For example, a raw apple dried apple or canned apple.
Encourage them to look, touch, smell and, if they want to, to try eating it. Ask them to tell you what they think at each stage – talking about food and having a conversation is critical.
For very young children, learn more about baby-led weaning, which follows a similar approach.
Be a Good Role Model
Let children see you eating new ingredients, preferably at the dinner table alongside them.
Say out loud what you think about the new flavours and why; this will help them communicate their preferences.
Also, as tempting as it is, try not to edit out ingredients just because you don’t like them!
Never Force or Bribe a Child to Eat Something
If you want positive results at the dinner table, the atmosphere needs to be relaxed and enjoyable.
Try to avoid using food as a reward system for unpleasant tasks and don’t force them to eat food they don’t like – this will only cause them to be more reluctant to try new foods in the future.
Be Mindful of Portion Sizes
A large portion of something unfamiliar on their plate might put the child off more than the actual ingredient.
You can always use small pots or egg cups to serve new items; try including them on the table instead of directly on the plate.
An extra tip is to remember that if you don’t provide new foods, your child will not know they exist!
It doesn’t have to be at every meal, but their ingredient and taste repertoire will be limited if you don’t help them explore the options.
Try pairing the new food with a food they already like or with which they are familiar. For babies, try adding breastmilk or formula to pureed foods.
For older children, try pairing a new vegetable with a dip they already like.
Children are more likely to try a new food if they see an adult eating the same food. Therefore, encourage your child to describe the food (e.g., “This carrot is crunchy”).
Provide a Variety of Foods.
Children are more likely to have a varied and balanced diet later in life if they are introduced to various foods, tastes, and textures during weaning and in early childhood.
Your child should eat a variety of foods because they get different nutrients from different foods.
Fruits and vegetables are essential because children’s diets are usually low in these nutritious foods.
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Try Introducing New Foods at Snack Time.
This may be an excellent time to introduce other foods from the same food group or similar foods. For instance, provide a snack of 2-3 different fruits or vegetables your child can choose.
Trust that your children will naturally start eating new foods after they become comfortable tasters.
As your children become accustomed to tasting new foods, they’ll naturally want to taste even more new foods. And tasting will eventually lead to eating—no question about it.
Talk to Your Children About Your Goal.
It’s crucial to tell your kids the game plan. Otherwise, how will they get on board? You don’t need an elaborate explanation, however.
Say something simple: “I know you don’t like to eat new foods, but I think this is important for you to learn.
Don’t worry. I’m not going to ask you to eat anything new. For now, we’re just going to learn how to taste fresh foods.”
Implement the Rotation Rule Using Foods Your Children Already Enjoy.
The Rotation Rule is straightforward: Don’t serve any food (except milk) two days in a row.
By mixing up the foods your children already eat, you teach them the habit of eating different foods on different days. This habit lays the foundation for introducing new foods.
Lower Your Expectations.
Like most parents, you probably tell your children that all you want is for them to taste the chilli you prepared for dinner, but deep down, you’re secretly hoping they’ll do more; you’re hoping that they’ll eat the chilli. That’s a lot of pressure. Instead, celebrate a single, solitary taste.
Take the Surprise Out of New Foods.
No one wants to try a food completely blind, without any reliable cues as to what it will taste like. Yet, this is what parents ask their children to do all the time!
Practice giving your children lots of information before they taste something new. For example, say, “This is crunchy.” Or, “This tastes a little like the chicken you ate yesterday because it has the same teriyaki sauce.” Or, “This is squishy like apple sauce.”
Make Tastings Easy for Your Children.
It’s tempting to steer clear of challenging tastes and textures, but that keeps kids stuck in their rut. Instead, make an effort to introduce changes slowly.
Start by using an accepted flavour or texture as a bridge to new foods. For instance, if your children like chicken nuggets because they’re crunchy, offer a taste of a crunchy fish stick.
If they enjoy blueberry yogurt, offer a taste of blueberry vanilla yogurt. If the texture is a sticking point, then gradually introduce foods that are lumpier and bumpier.
Offer an alternative to, “I don’t like it.” It’s helpful to remember that young children don’t have what researchers call stable taste preferences.
When it comes to liking different foods, their taste preferences are all over the board. Just as importantly, though, “I don’t like it” boxes kids into an opinion that is hard to change.
Resist the urge to ask your kids if they like what they’ve tasted. Instead, ask them to describe what they’ve eaten instead in terms of taste, texture, aroma, appearance and temperature.
Offer Teensy Portions.
We’re talking about two peas, one sliver of apple, one spoonful of yogurt. New foods can easily intimidate or overwhelm our little ones, especially when it’s a plateful of something unfamiliar.
But offering tiny tastes helps keep fear at bay (and it can go a long way towards reducing the amount of food that gets wasted!).
Use Foods You Know They Like.
Do they like oatmeal with raisins? Try swapping in dried cranberries or fresh blueberries. Does she adore pasta with peas? Try broccoli the next time around.
Providing familiarity and variety can go a long way. Explain what you are doing—you will rarely get away with a covert switch—so they understand that sometimes there is one fruit, and other days you get to enjoy another.
Let Them Get Hungry.
If your toddler is suddenly not eating as well at dinner, try moving back his afternoon snack or eliminating it—there’s a much better chance they will eat if they have 2-3 hours to work up an appetite.
And if your kiddo does get super hungry and a meal isn’t quite ready yet, try new food as an appetiser.
If your kiddo is hungry, they might try a slice of red pepper or a few edamame beans.
Take it Outside.
From nibbling veggies straight from the garden—cherry tomatoes, kale, spinach, lettuce, green beans, you name it—to trying the offerings on veggie trays at potlucks, the fresh air (or something!) seems to help toddlers try new foods.
Talk it Up.
Use descriptive words about the colour, the texture, the flavour, and the temperature to intrigue your toddler.
Challenge them to describe the food too—is it cold or hot? Does it feel crunchy or soft? Who’s favourite colour is it?
This might get you farther than focusing on “like” and “dislike”. It’s upbeat, nonthreatening, and fun.
Try Not to Push Too Much.
While this depends partly on personality, many toddlers (and adults!) push back when they are made.
Because what your toddler probably wants more than anything is a sense of control, so let them have it!
You decide what to offer; they determine what and how much to eat. (This theory is known as the Division of Responsibility in Feeding.)
And don’t sweat it if they don’t eat some of everything—because there will be days when they surprise you with what they do eat.
Try Not to Take it Personally If They Refuse.
We can almost guarantee you that whether or not your toddler tries the broccoli, it has little to do with your cooking skills.
It’s all about whether they feel empowered, comfortable, in charge, and the mood. It’s not you; it’s them!
(And consider: How did you feel the last time you ate something just because someone made it for you, say at a dinner party or a holiday, and not because you wanted to eat it? Not so good, right?)
Remember This Is Normal.
Almost all kids resist new foods or foods they are given—it’s part of growing up and learning how to be a good eater.
And think back: Did you like everything your mom served when you were a kid? Did you jump energetically into eating all the unidentifiable street food when you were travelling abroad? Probably not (unless you are away braver eater than I am when travelling!).
There legitimately might be foods that your child doesn’t like. Still, it also might take them some time to learn to become familiar with other foods, whether because the flavour is different, the texture is difficult to chew, or it looks like something they can’t quite identify.
We know that we tend to keep veggies simple, but don’t underestimate your kid’s palate.
The flavour is good, and it might be the gateway to helping toddlers learn to eat the foods plain down the road.
So let them taste the sauce, add herbs and spices (don’t go too hot-spicy), and learn what they like.
It can take exposing a toddler to a new food 8-15 times before eating it, so think of your long term goals.
We’d bet that you care more about raising a healthy person overall than whether or not your toddler eats another spoonful of cauliflower tonight. (At least most of the time!)
So keep offering fruits and veggies that your toddler currently won’t eat regularly as you make them for the rest of your family. Set them on the table family style so the kids can help themselves and relax. You are doing a great job!
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