The dinner table doesn’t need to feel like a battleground, although we know at times it does! Getting kids to try new foods isn’t always an easy task, even when you may have spent time creating the perfect menu.
Let’s be honest, all kids go through phases no matter what stage they are at and it can be stressful trying to keep up with their demands and requests. We asked Paediatric Nutritionist, Mandy Sacher to share her top tips for getting kids to try new foods and her answers might surprise you! Spoiler – they don’t always have to eat the food you serve them.
1. Eat together as a family
Role modelling healthy new habits is the best way to get them to try new foods. Mealtimes should be fun-filled family affairs rather than a battleground. Instilling a sense of enjoyment for eating is a great way to get your little one feeling comfortable with trying new foods. It might take a little patience and commitment from the whole family but you will be enjoying family meals in no time.
2. Make eating fun
Get them to enjoy and have fun eating at the dinner table with you. Create stories with food and reward positive behaviours. As hard as it can be, try to not focus on what they are eating and more on how they are feeling, to create a positive atmosphere. Simon Says, is a great game to play at dinnertime with younger children – “put a bean on your nose”; ‘throw a pea in mummy’s mouth” – these are excellent techniques to help kids touch foods they ordinarily struggle with.
3. Get kids into the kitchen
Get them cooking! Show them the different textures and flavours that are going into the foods they eat and if they don’t want to try it, don’t worry! The rule in my kitchen is that once the food is prepared we all have to taste it, but no one is forced to eat it if they don’t want to. Instead, focus on fun and enjoyment.
Cooking together is not only great for learning about nutrition, but it will also help increase food appreciation, desensitise and give you plenty of teachable moments.
4. Offer refused foods many times – they need repetition
Children need repetition to try and enjoy new flavours. Don’t give up after one or two goes – try, try and then try again. In fact, it can take up to 16 times for a child to “like” or accept a new taste, so stay positive, calm and keep trying. Making foods familiar by repeatedly offering them in a calm, familiar environment will aid the process of engaging with new tastes and flavours. Don’t be disappointed if they don’t eat the new food the first time – stay positive and freeze what’s not eaten and offer it again – repetition is key.
5. Make small changes to your staples
Remember it’s not an ‘all or nothing’ approach, small changes will go a long way. Work with foods that they are already enjoying and start to expand. If they are eating sweet potatoes, go with something like carrot as it has a similar flavour and texture. You can also try offering them the same foods in different ways – cut into fun shapes, laid out in colour patterns, steamed rather than raw etc.
6. Put on the side – don’t just hide!
Whilst you might be tempted to hide and disguise vegetables in the foods they love, it’s a good idea to also offer it on the side in its visible form. This will help children get used to the idea of having vegetables with their meals. The best way to get started? Get them to help prepare the recipes that you want to serve them. As hard as it is, try not to force-feed them as this will only create stress and negativity around “difficult” foods. Try to create a sense of trust around the table, and engage them through play.