How to Get Kids to Try New Foods
February 16, 2022
There are those kinds of parents whose kids eat everything from spinach to sauerkraut (btw, here is how I make my batch of sauerkraut at home)And then there’s me – who strolls down lanes of every farmer’s market in Houston, Texas, chalking out weekly menus in advance, making minute changes to consider every child’s current preference, only to have my beloved trio announce that there isn’t anything they detest more in the world than what’s on the dinner table that night.
I had great luck the first few years; I made sure my babies were exposed to just about every food in the kitchen and I was taking them on fun-filled days at different farmers markets in Texas. Fast forward two years, and I was facing a bunch of close-minded eaters who refused even to acknowledge the foods they once loved. Now, how would I get my picky eaters to try new foods (or even the old ones that they had come to reject)?
Common as it may be, picky eating can be such a challenge, irrespective of the child’s age. Picky eating can last a good couple of years before children catch on with the plethora of tastes out there, but it sure is frustrating to make it through this phase!
Please note that this difficult milestone is quite different from “problem feeding”. Problem feeders eat less than 20 foods and may also experience severe anxiety while trying something new. Unlike picky eating, problem feeding requires gentle therapy and other specific approaches to help you and your child work through it. Read on as I share with you some helpful tips and tricks I learnt along the way to get my children to try new foods!
Do not make eating and feeding a stressful time
Forcing various foods on kids doesn’t give them the chance to discover that different foods can actually taste good. Stress at the dinner table is never a good thing. Mealtimes for picky eaters is already a hurdle they are trying to overcome. Meet them halfway by setting up a fun and relaxed vibe at the dinner table.
Most children don’t refuse foods simply to make you angry. Consider what could be driving their resistance. For example, some children find flavors to be REALLY strong. Other children feel textural sensitivity, so they may avoid crunchy, soft, or other textured foods. While these are commonly seen issues that are usually overcome in time, forcing your way through them is not the answer. Take a deep breath and focus on the fact that food is not punishment; rather, mealtimes must be a pleasurable time for the family.
Involve your children as much as possible in the process
I always found my kids ate better and were willing to try new foods when they knew what was coming for them. Family trips to farmers’ markets (we have over 300 farmers markets in Texas!) are an excellent way to open the doors to a curiosity for fresh, organic food in young minds and to give them the freedom to pick out what they prefer to eat. Head on to the Texas Real Food directory to know which farmers markets are nearest to you!
Growing a little herb garden with your children is a sure shot way to get them interested in trying crunchy spinach. You can also have them help you prep the foods—slicing mushrooms for the stir fry, perhaps? Allowing kids to explore the kitchen safely is an excellent approach to introduce them to different textures and tastes. Sometimes, my daughter will try foods that she won’t touch at the dinner table while we’re cooking. Those little licks, nibbles, and bites all add up to more exposure to new foods. And the more often your child tries the food, the better!
After they have worked with you to plan the meal, serve the dishes for the evening. Your children can choose to eat from them (or NOT, more on that later). For instance, serve the spaghetti in one bowl, the spaghetti sauce in another (click here to know where to buy the best pasta sauce in Texas), the meatballs in a separate dish, the salad in another, and accompaniments such as fruit and bread can also be offered separately. Kids are free to choose how and what they wish to eat, one picking meatballs and bread and another eating plain spaghetti with salad. This step may not make sense to you, but it gives plenty of much-desired control over to the kids, at the same time exposing them to new foods.
Have Love it, Like it, and Learning it Foods
“But what if my child chooses to eat nothing?”
This is a common concern most parents have regarding the above suggestion. Here is where the “Love it, Like it, Learning it” technique comes into play. To put it simply, make sure you serve some foods your child “loves” at all mealtimes, and then some foods they “like” (foods they have eaten and are willing to try again), and finally some foods the children are “learning” to eat. “Learning it” foods can include things your child has not been exposed to before or has expressed a disinterest towards.
The “Love it, Like it, Learning it” approach ensures children do not starve but at the same time are free to taste or pick one of their lesser preferred foods without the stress of it being forced. For parents, this practice helps eliminate mealtime struggles, reduces “mom-guilt”, and sets the scene for greater long-term success. Don’t worry if the safe food doesn’t “equal” the rest of the meal in terms of nutrition. It might mean your kid has yogurt and bananas even if tacos are the main dinner, but hey, kudos to you for playing your subtle but necessary role in exposing them to new foods! Click here to learn more about what fruit and vegetables are in season in Texas.
Encouraging words and actions can go a long way
Fellow moms, don’t roll your eyes just yet! Having a positive attitude and demeanor will get your child to try a new food quicker. Focus on encouraging wordplay to nudge your child to take one bite of their lesser preferred foods. This can mean a nibble, a bite or even a spit right out. That’s OK!
Some kids will touch, feel, and smell the food before deciding they DON’T want to taste it. This is perfectly alright too. If they continue to see this food regularly on the table, there will come a day when they will be comfortable enough to give it a try.
Wondering what foods can help “open” picky palettes? Seasonal is always best! Check out the TexasRealFood Promptuary to find out what produce is in season. With over 800 entries, you’ll learn how sustainable each ingredient is, what to look for when shopping for it and even tips on how to cook it.
Explore different ways to serve a particular food but do not mask flavors
Change is good, and sometimes, all it takes is changing the shape of the pasta for a kid to try it out. Check out this pasta recipe we made with penne, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini. If they like homemade banana pudding, chances are they will enjoy this rice pudding too. Does your child enjoy purple grapes? Try serving green ones next time. If burgers are a favorite, try a burger filled with this one-pan baked honey mustard chicken.
Trust yourself and be patient
The wonderful thing about parenting is that you know your child better than anyone else.
Many children outgrow their picky eating phase with time. The more relaxed you can make mealtime, the more quickly you can move out of it. Don’t hesitate to talk to a nutritionist if you have any concerns about your child’s eating habits. Believe in yourself and your child!
If you are racking your brains for some easy, delicious, family-style dishes, check out our recipe section here!
Do you have a picky eater on your hands? What has helped you the most in dealing with? Let us know and help a fellow Texan mom out!