Helping all children become happy learners
How do you get your child to try new foods?
It is extremely common for children to be resistant to trying new foods. Research suggests that there may be important evolutionary reasons why children avoid many vegetables and fruits etc. Many plants are toxic and toddlers and young children are therefore necessarily wary of plants. There is also evidence that young children are much more sensitive to bitter food tastes and really can't bear the taste of many healthy vegetables and fruits. Frustratingly for parents, children appear to be 'programmed' to find high calorie foods full of sugars, other carbohydrates and fats appealing. Thus the question of trying new foods perhaps needs to be much more specific. Is it about widening the diet to include more healthy fruits, pulses and vegetables? Or is that your child refuses almost everything? For most children it will be about gradually widening their diet to include vegetables with stronger tastes and often coarser textures. If your child tends to refuse almost anything then they are more likely to have significant behavioural and or sensory needs influencing their eating habits. It may be useful to seek professional guidance to help determine the underlying cause of their eating behaviour. However, for these children and children more generally the strategies below can be useful.
Babies up to 18 months should ideally be exposed to lots of different fruits and vegetables. Until this age babies are generally more willing to accept strong and strange tastes when fed by their parent.
Encourage not force
It is important to encourage your child to eat a range of foods. However, it important that you never force a child to eat a food that makes them 'gag' or be sick. This is likely to create a stronger adversion to the food that can be very difficult to reverse.
Give them the smallest possible portion of the new food. Expect them only to try a taste. Ignore any negative reaction and carry on with the rest of the meal as normal. Keep repeating this strategy on a weekly basis for about three months.
FRiendly Food Friends
Children are more likely to accept foods if their friends eat them. So inviting your child's friend round for a meal after school can often be a good time to introduce a new food. (Might need to check that the friend will eat it!)
Invite your child to help with supermarket shopping and involve them in choices of the food bought. Encourage them to choose a new food to try.
Plan a menu together
Plan out a weekly menu with your child. Include one new food to be tried that week. You may find the New Food Menu resource helpful.
Eat Together as a family
Children are generally more likely to accept foods when everybody else in the family eats the same meal together. This is particularly important for younger children where they are often fed at different times to their parents.
Separate new foods
When possible and practical to do so try putting new foods onto a different plate when serving them. This avoids any contamination with foods that your child already eats. This is particularly important for very fussy eaters and some children with ASD.
Encourage food play. You can use a whole range of foods to create art work that is both fun to do and a really useful way of reducing anxiety and fear over new foods. And if they happen to lick their fingers when their hands are covered in pureed vegetable 'paint' all the better!
A reward chart can be a useful way of encouraging and rewarding children to try new foods.
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