A mother asks us: My child sometimes gets anxious when I introduce a new healthy food. What can I do to entice him to try and eat it?
Elyse Falk, MS, RD, Mom and Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, Mom answers…
There are a few important things to remember when introducing your child to a new food.
First, it is a good idea to introduce the new ingredient with other foods that they already like to eat.
Next, make the entire process matter of fact. Tell your child that you found a great recipe that you know your friend’s kids really like, and you thought they would like it too. You can tell them what it is (a grain, veggie or protein) and maybe what nutrition it has. But that’s it. Keep it simple.
In my home, I eat the kinds of dishes I like in front of my kids so that I can be a role model and show them how much I enjoy trying new foods. Don’t get me wrong; there are recipes I have made that I just have to say, “Ugh, this really doesn’t taste good,” in front of them, but I think it also shows that I am human and that they can dislike certain foods too. The most important part is trying them. (Some parents choose to impart a “one-bite” rule in their homes, but I wouldn’t push it if it’s going to cause a tantrum.)
Don’t forget that food isn’t always love at first bite. It may take a few attempts for them to taste the new ingredient, so remember that exposure and repetitiveness is key. Try to introduce the new food in different ways by changing the flavor, texture (pureed vs. whole) or cooking method (steamed vs. roasted).
Friends and family may be your best allies too, as sometimes, siblings or friends could entice each other to try a new food. For example, if one sibling likes the food, and the other one has never tried it before and sees his or her sibling really enjoying new flavors, it usually draws interest and the desire to try them too.
At the end of the day though, remember that you don’t want to place too much pressure on your child. If they see you getting angry over the fact that they didn’t taste or like it, they may feel added pressure or anxiety the next time. Just teach them that, in certain instances, it is ok to reply, “no thank you,” and let it go. Children’s taste buds change every day, so don’t lose hope.
If your child is really picky, like my boys are, then start by exposing your son or daughter to the new food before even asking them to try it. Exposure is essential. Place the food on or perhaps just near their plate first. They don’t need to eat it, but they do need to leave it be. Even this can be a challenge. My boys still move the food away from their plate—and far away at that. But eventually, it gets on to their plate and stays there.
Once you’ve accomplished that simple yet monumental task, try implementing the one bite rule. If they refuse to take even a small bite, instead of making a big deal, instead try the one lick rule.
My boys are typically ok with the one lick rule. My oldest son, who is now 5 and a half, is even coming around to the one bite rule, of course, as long as he can spit it out if he doesn’t like it. At this point, if I can ask him to take one bite and swallow, he will—but only with certain foods.
Billy, my youngest, is still in the “one lick phase,” unless he sees something he actually wants to try. Billy has made a ton of progress. He tries a lot on his own now, even though he usually doesn’t like it. I know I was the same way as a child. I only ate macaroni with butter or cheese for almost two years. My mother took me to the doctor at the time; he said I would grow out of it, and I did.
I am still, however, quite picky with the quality of my food. I’ll try anything—even pig’s intestine—so long as it’s prepared well. In this sense, the kids definitely surprise me by which foods they will and will not try, so at least they inherited that from me too.
In the case that your child truly, adamantly does not want to taste an ingredient, you may benefit from simply letting it go and trying again a month later. You never know how their taste will evolve, especially at such a young age, so continue to offer and or expose them to new and different foods periodically. While it may seem like it at times, your children are not only going to eat mac n’ cheese and chicken nuggets forever, well – we hope.
Moms: Are your kids anxious around new ingredients? How do you get your kids to try new foods? Do they get their picky tendencies from you?