Ask any parent about their most frequent meal time struggles, and no doubt “getting my kids to try a new food” will be right at the top of the list. With the right approach, increasing children’s food repertoire doesn’t have to be so hard. In fact, children can begin to happily try new foods without the constant battle.
The goal of a competent feeder should be to provide opportunities for children to approach a new food in their own way, on their own time, and in a relaxed manner that is free from pressure. It needs to be their decision. “When people feel as if they have freely and consciously made a decision, they take ownership of that decision and tend to have a greater enjoyment of the outcome,” says Dr. Brian Wansink Co-Director of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement.1 Keep in mind that ultimately we want children to not only try a variety of healthy new foods, but enjoy them, and choose them again and again in the future.
Whether you’re a parent introducing new foods at the dinner table, or a food service director promoting new foods at lunch, here are five ways to inspire children to give them a try without the pressure:
Provide consistent exposure: Kids eat what they like, and like what they know, so be sure you provide many opportunities for kids to get to know a new food. Try different types of preparations of new vegetables, keep a bowl of fruit accessible, or offer the same new dish on the lunch line multiple times.
Offer the familiar with the unfamiliar: Kids are more likely to accept a new food if it is offered with another food they already know and like. Pair new veggies with a favorite dip or a new casserole with familiar sides like applesauce and sliced cheese.
Be a good example: Being a positive role model is one of the most influential factors for raising healthy eaters that enjoy a variety of new healthy foods.2 Enjoy family meals at least four nights each week, and let your child choose from the variety of new and familiar foods on the table. Also teach your children that it’s also OK to not like certain foods, and show them how to politely say “no, thank you” when this occurs. At school, offer motivators for teachers to eat with their students, or encourage parents to drop by for lunch.
Market it: Sometimes kids need a little extra (yet subtle) motivation to try a new food. Use kid-friendly stickers on fruits and veggies3, slice fruit into bite-size pieces instead of serving it whole4, or give a new meal a creative name, such as a “super salad with x-ray vision carrots.” 5
Let kids be part of the process: A 2012 article in Appetite shows that the more enjoyment kids get out of eating, the less “picky” they will be6. So make the whole process of eating, from growing food to selecting recipes and preparing meals, enjoyable for kids. Get them involved in school gardens, look for new recipes together, and cook together often.
Amy Nadelen, MS, Tribe Wellness
- Wansink, Brian, Mitsuru Shimizu, and Guido Camps (2011). “What would Batman Eat?: Priming Children to Make Healthier Fast Food Choices.” Pediatric Obesity , 7(2): 121-123.
- Wansink, Brian; Just, David; Hanks, Andrew; Smith, Laura (2013) “Pre-sliced fruit in school cafeterias: Children’s selection and intake.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(5): 477-480.
- Wansink, Brian; Just, David; Payne, Collin; Klinger, Matthew (2012) “Attractive names sustain increased vegetable intake in schools.” Preventive Medicine, 55(4): 330-332.
- Van Der Horst, K. (2012) “Overcoming picky eating. Eating enjoyment as a central aspect of children’s eating behaviors.” Appetite, 58(2): 567-74.