Opening your kids’ minds to new foods is so important, but new foods can be scary. All the different colors and textures, unfamiliar smells or tastes, and sometimes they just don’t look good. So what can you do to encourage new foods around your picky eaters without starting a meltdown? Take a look at our favorite tips to make food a little more interesting for your kids.
Get them involved. Ask your kids to go grocery shopping with you. Grocery shopping together allows kids to learn about different foods and their nutrition and gives them an opportunity to pick out new foods to try. To continue giving your kids the opportunity to make decisions during an educational activity, try planting a garden together. This will allow them to pick new fruits and vegetables they want to try and taste-test what they’ve planted. Once you have food purchased or grown, ask your kids to help you prepare the food or meal to get them excited to try something new.
Offer the new food with foods you know your kids like. When you introduce something alongside foods that your kid knows they like, they’re more open to trying the new food. According to Katrina Lien, Sanford fit’s Program Development Specialist, offering the new food more than once can also encourage your kids to try it. It can often take multiple attempts, sometimes as many as 15 attempts, before they decide whether they truly like the new food or not.
Make foods interesting and fun. Color and texture can play a big role in whether a kid likes new foods. They may find new foods more appealing if those foods are perceived as fun. Serving foods that can be served in fun shapes or are brightly colored can help encourage interest. For example, broccoli and cauliflower look like trees. Or use a cookie cutter to make a cucumber slice look like a flower! Learn more about intriguing picky eaters with a fun activity in this article.
Enjoy a “family-style” meal. Family-style meals are a lot like Thanksgiving dinners. Place different foods in serving dishes and set them on the table for everyone to serve themselves. It’s a great opportunity for children to watch their family eat. According to Annie Jacobson, a dietitian manager with Sanford Health, children benefit greatly from seeing their parents or siblings choose and consume healthy foods. During family-style meals, try to follow the MyPlate Meal routine which includes at least one vegetable, fruit, protein, dairy, and whole grains to ensure a well-balanced meal for all.
Katrina adds that it’s okay if kids do not clean their plate. Instead, give your kids a different dish or container to place the food they do not eat. By giving them an activity to move the food they do not want to eat, you’re furthering their exposure to the new food. The process of picking up the food and moving from their plate to another allows them to see, smell, and touch the food, and over time, they may eventually become interested enough in the food to give it a try.
Keep the conversation positive. Getting your kids interested in new foods is a process—sometimes it works seamlessly, and sometimes it’s an uphill climb. No matter what, Jacobson encourages caregivers to avoid forcing a child to eat new foods if they are not sure. Instead of saying phrases like, "Try it, you'll like it," or "Take just one bite," try phrases like, "If you try it and don't want to swallow, ask me for a tissue so you can spit into it." This will help build positive feelings about trying new foods and will keep their trust in you. Plus, by not forcing any food, this may allow your child to be more willing to sample food the next time. When your child tries a new food, you can also ask them about its taste, smell, and texture. Is it sweet or sour? How does it sound when you chew it? Is it bumpy or smooth? For more tips on talking to your kids about food, check out this article.
Be patient, be consistent, and you’ll have your kids trying new foods in no time.