Kids simply can’t get the nutrition they need by existing on a diet that consists solely of macaroni and cheese or chicken tenders, nor can they acquire healthy eating habits, but it can sometimes seem impossible to convince them to give unfamiliar foods a try. Because working healthier fare into your child’s diet is so important to his health and the formation of dietary habits he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life, the time you spend helping your child try and appreciate new foods is sure to be an investment that pays off in spades.
- Start Early – When children are routinely introduced to new foods from the time that they first begin eating solid fare, they’re less likely to regard unfamiliar items with suspicion. Attempting to change your child’s diet becomes more of a challenge as she gets older, so it’s best to start as early as possible.
- Introduce New Items When Kids Are Hungry – Just as adults are more likely to spend more money at the grocery store when they’re hungry, kids will find new foods more appealing when their tummies are rumbling. Limiting snacks before mealtimes to encourage a good appetite will make the process of introducing new foods much easier.
- Don’t Force the Issue – Resorting to threats of reduced privileges or punishment when a stubborn child refuses to try a new food will only make him more resistant to unfamiliar dishes, so it’s best not to force the issue. Sometimes foods will need to be introduced several times before kids will accept them, so try to convince your child to simply taste a new food, rather than insisting that he eat every bite unwillingly.
- Offer One New Food at a Time – When new foods are served alongside familiar favorites, kids won’t feel as if they have no palatable options on their plate. Keep the number of new dishes to a minimum, and allow your child to branch out into uncharted territory with a safety net of sorts in place.
- Be Persistent – Rather than giving up on a new food the first time that your youngster refuses to try it, make an effort to persistently introduce a new food until it becomes more familiar. When they realize that everyone else at the table is enjoying a particular item on a somewhat regular basis, curiosity may win out over stubbornness and suspicion.
- Model Adventurous Eating Habits – It’s hard to convince your child to try new foods when you’re stuck in a dietary rut yourself. Remember that kids’ behavior and habits are often the result of mimicry, and make a point of modeling adventurous eating. Being openly excited about the prospect of a new dish can help to foster the same excitement in a child.
- Let Little Ones Choose New Foods – Allowing your child to choose his own new vegetable from the produce section will make him more eager to try that item than he might be if it were simply presented to him. Consider taking your child to the grocery store or produce market with you periodically, encouraging him to choose a healthy food item for inclusion in that night’s meal.
- Get Kids Involved With Meal Prep – Helping to prepare a meal gives kids a sense of pride and ownership, making them eager to test the fruits of their labor. Giving your child an age-appropriate task related to the preparation of the new food item you plan to introduce is an effective and exciting way of fostering a sense of culinary adventure, and perhaps a love of cooking as well.
- Think Twice About “Sneaking” – When you’re desperate to get some healthier, fresh fare into your child’s diet, the prospect of hiding vegetables in familiar foods can be tempting. While this practice does effectively provide the nutritional value of fresh vegetables, it does nothing to help your child learn healthier habits or gain a more adventurous attitude.
- Presentation is Key – Kids are attracted to fun shapes, bright colors and appealing presentation. Where a mound of steamed carrots might be boring and unappetizing, steamed carrots that were first cut into interesting shapes might be a treat. Experimenting with new ways of preparing and presenting foods can help your child feel more interested in them than he would be with a traditional appearance.
Unless you’re blessed with particularly adventurous eaters, introducing new and unfamiliar foods to your child will require a certain amount of patience and acceptance. He may not touch his parsnips the first five times you serve them, but they will become less threatening to him when they’re a regular dinnertime guest. Keeping your frustrations in check and encouraging your child to try new things without threats or coercion is almost always the most effective approach to expanding his palate.