Encouraging children to try new foods can be an irksome – and let’s not forget thankless – task. If you are having pasta on repeat or cheese with everything because those are the only foods your children will happily eat, mealtimes can be hugely frustrating and boring on the palate. A varied diet for children is, however, crucial for their development, so it’s important to introduce new ingredients and flavours where possible.
The world of food is diverse and exciting, and trying new things can be just as interesting for parents as it can be for kids. Going on a culinary journey together can help children to engage with food and looking outside your normal diet is a great idea – the globe is full of recipes waiting to be discovered!
Remember that introducing new foods isn’t just for young children. As the teenage years unfold, children need more variety and nutrients than ever and their taste buds will change – they’ll regularly find new tastes and textures to like or dislike. No matter what age your child is, it’s never too early – or too late – to encourage them to try new food.
5 ways to encourage children to try new foods
1. Get them in the kitchen
There’s nothing like handling and combining ingredients to help children understand about the foods they eat and to inspire them to be inquisitive about the ingredients being used. Younger children can help with weighing, mixing and measuring jobs, gaining more responsibility as they get older. The more invested they are in preparing the meal, the more likely they are to eat it!
2. Try to offer a choice
Allow your child to choose between several different ingredients (try to include a familiar one) or a few different forms of the same ingredient – for example raw apple, dried apple or canned apple. Encourage them to look, touch, smell and, if they want to, to try eating it. Ask them to tell you what they think at each stage – talking about food and having a conversation is key.
For very young children, learn more about baby-led weaning which follows a similar approach.
3. Be a good role model
Let children see you eating new ingredients, preferably at the dinner table alongside them. Say out loud what you think about the new flavours and why; this will help them to communicate their own preferences. Also, as tempting as it is, try not to edit out ingredients just because you don’t like them!
4. Never force or bribe a child to eat something
If you want positive results at the dinner table, the atmosphere needs to be relaxed and enjoyable. Try to avoid using food as a reward system for unpleasant tasks and don’t force them to eat food they don’t like – this will only cause them to be more reluctant to try new foods in the future.
Read more about communicating with your child about food with Susie Orbach’s article, 5 things never to say to your child about food.
5. Be mindful of portion sizes
A large portion of something unfamiliar on their plate might put the child off more than the actual ingredient. You can always use small pots or egg cups to serve new items; try including them on the table instead of directly on the plate.
An extra tip is to remember that if you don’t provide new foods, your child will not know they exist! It doesn’t have to be at every meal, but their ingredient and taste repertoire will be limited if you don’t help them explore the options.
The new series of My World Kitchen, produced by Terrific Television, airs on CBeebies from 23 September 2019 at 12 noon with recipes from around the world to inspire parents and children alike. Recipes from My World Kitchen are available on the CBeebies website and you can watch My World Kitchen on BBC iPlayer.
For more inspiration, Sally Brown and Kate Morris’ latest book, The World in My Kitchen, is published by Nourish (£12.99). Visit sallybrownkatemorris.co.uk for more information.
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How do you encourage your child to try new foods? Let us know your tips in the comments below.