By Karnie Babikian, Nutrition Educator
Offering new foods consistently is critical in expanding a child’s diet to include foods from all important food groups. A diet that consists of foods from all food groups is one that is balanced– it contains all essential nutrients for children to grow and develop properly. Exposing children to different textures and tastes is also important because it reduces the likelihood of developing selective eating behaviors or regressing with feeding progress. Children might experience difficulty accepting unfamiliar foods for a variety of different reasons. Strategies for offering new foods can help parents be more successful.
Here are some tips to try:
- Always offer something new with a preferred food. It is recommended to have 2 preferred foods and 1 non-preferred food on the plate. For example, serving chicken nuggets and french fries (preferred) with a side of corn (new).
- Do not offer too many new things at once. It might feel overwhelming for a child to choose from 3 + different options. Limiting the number of options served can help encourage children to try what is present.
- Offer the new food in a small amount. New foods are unfamiliar and scary to children. Serving a very small amount of the new food can help reduce that fear. The new food does not have to be an entire serving, it is just as effective, if not more, to serve the new food in a very small amount (the size of a pea or a bean).
- Offer new items multiple times, in different forms. Research shows that it takes up to 20 different exposures for children to determine whether they like a food or not. Parents might feel defeated after rejection of a new offering, but continuous exposure is effective. You can offer foods in different shapes, different recipes, and at different times of day. If you are finding yourself unsuccessful, you can take a break from that particular food and resume after a few weeks.
- Find the best time of day for exploring. When do you think your child will be most successful with exploring new foods? It can be helpful to identify their best time of day. For example, maybe breakfast is not the best time to explore new foods- you are rushing out the door to get to school, your child just woke up, they are probably tired and hungry. Offering new things in a comfortable, stress-free environment will set children up for success.
- Avoid forcing. Remind your child that there is no pressure to eat the new food. You can try phrases like “It is ok if you’re not ready yet” or “we are only exploring today.” Phrases like “just one bite, try it” can be with good intention but are too pressuring and can result in children being even more resistant.
- Talk about the properties of the food and allow exploration with hands. Allowing children to play with food helps them explore what the food will feel like before they have to commit to putting it in their mouth. If they are not yet ready to eat the food, you can still learn about the food by talking about the color/shape/temperature/texture. If they are feeling ready, they can touch.
- Recognize that everyone has preferences. Sometimes children will simply not like a certain texture or flavor. As adults we too have preferences for certain tastes and textures over others. This is normal.
- Model positive eating behaviors. Children watch and learn from those around them. Having siblings and parents model positive eating behaviors can encourage children to follow. Family meals are a great opportunity for modeling behaviors you want your child to adopt.
- Start simple. It might be helpful to offer single ingredient foods before mixed textures. For example, trying ground meat alone first might be less intimidating than introducing lasagna that incorporates sauce, cheese, noodles, and meat combined.