Encouraging Kids to Try New Foods

Parents have been trying forever to solve the age old problem of getting kids to try new foods.  This goal is no different for ChildSavers as we try to encourage the children our providers care for to embrace healthy and nutritious food. The long standing solution for this problem has been that kids simply need to eat the same foods as their parents. However, when we look closer, we realize that there are other factors contributing to a child’s reluctance to try something new.

Reality of the matter

First, its biology! It will surprise no one that kids prefer salty and sugary foods. Leann Birch, a research psychologist with the University of Georgia says, “They’re born preferring salty and sweet.” Birch also states that parents should expect their children to reject new foods. She suggest that this is human nature. However, if exposed to new experiences enough times they will learn to eat new foods.

Despite some of our best intentions, cost is also a reality facing many parents.  For many parents it’s difficult to watch a child reject a food over and over again especially on a tight budget. There is also the time involved to present healthy options. Many parents work all day, then make a healthy meal, just for the child to reject it.  Realizing this helps us understand the difficult position some parents are placed.  Some parents would rather feed children the chicken nuggets and pizza they know they will eat, even if it’s not healthy.

In the end Pediatrician Eric Ball believes that parents need to be role models.  Yes, they will reject foods, but understanding this is going to happen beforehand, is part of the solution.  He refers to a point his mother-in-law said. “Expect her to eat one meal, play with one meal, and ignore one meal.”

Here are a couple of tips to remember when introducing new foods to kids

  • Be calm. Even if you’re frustrated or worried about a picky eater, try to at least fake a carefree front. It matters because if you are casual about it, they’ll be casual.
  • Make it the first or second bite, when the kids are hungry. This comes from Karen Le Billon, author of French Kids Eat Everything. And to that end, don’t allow snacks closer than two hours before dinner. A hungrier kid is more willing to try something new.
  • Don’t insist that they eat an entire serving. Since the lesson is about introducing variety, cultivating curiosity and encouraging healthy eating, it’s not important whether or not the kids eat a full plate. At our house the rule is this: you have to try one bite of everything. If you don’t, you’re not eligible for dessert. And it’s not a big deal either way.
  • Make it a habit. I love cooking and write about our greatest hits (and misses) on Foodlets.comso our kids are very used to new foods. You don’t have to blog about it but the sooner your kids get used to trying new things, the sooner they’ll accept the experience as part of your dinner routine.
  • Let them help… in the garden. From her home in the Seattle suburbs, Jennifer says her two girls eat tons of fresh vegetables in the summer because they’ve invested their own time and effort to help the garden grow since spring.
  • Don’t offer substitutions.  If they know that plain pasta is available as a backup, what’s the point in trying something else when they don’t want to?
  • Eat new foods and enjoy them yourself. Enthusiasm is contagious. And if you’re not especially into roasted carrots but you know they’re good for the kids, just take a bite or two yourself. And either way, set an example by saying appreciative things. “This looks so good!” Even one little “mmm” can go a long way toward a sweet family habit.
  • Spin off proven favorites. Any time we have success with one thing, we replicate it somewhere else. Pumpkin spice muffins turn into carrot spice muffinsGrilled beef skewers were a hit so we tried pork and pineapple kebabs, then homemade Hawaiian pizza. Sometimes just one ingredient makes its way somewhere new. Kiwi has long been a favorite dessert item so I was thrilled to see a recipe for kiwi endive salad… and thanks to those familiar little green gems, they ate it.
  • Get them excited ahead of time. If your kids are older than toddlers, announce your plan. We’re going to start trying new foods as a family. This week we’ll try baked risotto with bacon and peas and carrot cake pancakes. It’s going to be fun! Then give it a whirl. How bad can one bite be?
  • Be patient. It’s been reported that kids will need to try new foods anywhere from 7 to 15 times before acquiring a taste for it. That’s a lot.

Godoy, M. (2018, June 09). Want Your Child To Eat (Almost) Everything? There Is A Way. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2018/06/09/618025893/want-your-child-to-try-eat-almost-everything-skip-the-kids-menu

Mathews, C. C. (2012, October 15). How to Get Kids to Try New Foods (Without Begging, Bribing or Losing Your Mind). Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/charity-curley-mathews/kids-and-food_b_1778559.html


Jason Muckle is originally from Northern Virginia but has lived in Richmond since 2010. Jason is the supervisor for ChildSavers’ Nutrition Program. He attended VCU and has primarily worked in education for most of his life, but made a change to reflect my passion for food and how it can be a vehicle for change.  Along with helping early care programs learn about nutrition and serving healthy meals, he also teaches children cooking classes in the Richmond City and is looking for other ways to positively change the food landscape.

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