Raising an adventurous eater who enjoys a wide variety of foods, fruits and vegetables, and new flavors requires a combination of strategies and a positive food environment. Here are some simple tips to help you knock it out of the park!
Lead by example
Children are more likely to try new foods if they see their parents or caregivers eating them. Be a role model by regularly consuming a variety of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, and new flavors. Explore foods from other cultures and let your child see you having fun while doing it!
Introduce a variety of foods early
Start introducing a wide range of flavors and textures to your child's diet from an early age. Offer them a diverse selection of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins, and herbs and spices. Even babies can experience most spices used in foods! Just be mindful of salt, sugar, and spices with a lot of heat (like cayenne). Even if a child doesn't take to a certain food right away, continuous exposure over time is the best strategy!
Make it fun!
Get creative with presentation and preparation to make meals enjoyable. Use colorful fruits and vegetables, arrange them in interesting shapes, or create themed meals. Allow your child to participate in meal planning or food preparation, such as washing vegetables or mixing ingredients. And, sometimes, getting a little messy is just the kind of fun you need to get your little one interested in a new food!
Offer a variety of options
Provide a variety of nourishing foods at meals to choose from. This allows your child to have some control over their food choices and encourages exploration. Include new items alongside familiar ones to make it less intimidating. We always recommend including 1-2 "preferred" foods at a meal. This allows a child to fill up on something they enjoy while exploring new or less-liked foods in the process.
Gradual exposure to new flavors
Introduce new flavors gradually, in small portions or mixed with familiar foods. This approach helps your child become more familiar with different tastes and reduces resistance to trying new things. Less is usually more when it comes to new food. Serving a large portion of a new food may feel very intimidating to a child. Start with 1 very small amount like a teaspoon of peas or 1 baby carrot. If introducing strong spices (like in a chili or curry dish), try taking it easy on the spice and then building up as your child begins to accept this new food.
Avoid pressure at all costs
Pressure or forcing to eat can create negative associations and resistance. We recommend avoiding tactics such as "the one bite rule" or "you need to eat more of XYZ if you want to have dessert." Even positive pressure to eat can backfire. Example: praising a child for eating their broccoli can sometimes be perceived as pressure as their brain is triggered to think "I need to eat broccoli to make my parents proud," and suddenly, eating broccoli feels less fun.
Respect their preferences and allow them to develop their own preferences over time. This goes hand-in-hand with offering a variety of options including a couple of preferred foods. We want children to feel safe at the table. Keeping mealtimes pleasant and offering some preferred foods will help bring down barriers and allow for exploration of new foods.
Get creative with recipes
Experiment with different recipes that incorporate new ingredients and flavors. For example, make smoothies with various fruits and vegetables or try different cooking methods such as steaming, grilling, and roasting veggies. Involving your child in cooking can increase their interest in trying new foods.
If you feel like you're stuck in a rut eating the same foods every day, making small changes to their favorite recipes or go-to foods can lead to big wins in the long run! Kid loves PB sandwiches? Try cutting their sandwich a different way, serving almond butter instead of peanut butter, changing up the flavor of jelly, or simply serving the sandwich at a different time of day so it's less predictable. The more kids get used to a little variability, the more open they are to exploring new foods.
Grow a vegetable or herb garden
If possible, start a small garden or grow herbs in pots. Involve your child in the process of planting, caring for, and harvesting the produce. This hands-on experience can make them more excited about trying the fruits (or vegetables) of their own labor. Even just playing in the dirt while planting is a great sensory experience for a young child! Sensory play can be a great tool for helping children become more comfortable with different temperatures, textures, and mouthfeel of foods.
Be patient and persistent
It may take many, many attempts before your child accepts a new food. Don't give up if they reject it the first few times. Continue offering a variety of options, and eventually, they may develop a taste for them. And remember that no one likes everything! Even as adults we can have strong food preferences or dislike some foods. Don't expect them to like everything they try either. In time, with continued exposure, it will become more clear which foods work and which they simply don't enjoy.
Remember, every child is different, and their taste preferences can change over time. By providing a positive food environment, being patient, and offering a variety of nourishing choices each day, you can help raise an adventurous eater who enjoys nutritious foods and new flavors. As moms to young children, we know feeding kids comes with many challenges. Your work does not go unnoticed, and on days when you feel like giving up, know that the work you are doing today matters. You may not see changes overnight, but it's happening. Hang in there!
Still have questions? Need more tips for raising an adventurous eater? That's what we're here for! Our dietitians coach parents to help them feel confident putting food on the family table. Book a free discovery call to learn more!