Introducing New Foods to Picky Eaters
It can be incredibly stressful when a child begins to display fussy mealtime behaviors. Fussy mealtime behaviors often arise as children begin to gain more independence. Don’t worry – you are not alone! With the right guidance, mealtimes can become enjoyable for the whole room or family again.
Saying “no!” to certain foods is okay and is very common. Helping children become more receptive to trying new foods is definitely a difficult feat. However, with a wide range of strategies in place, you are certain to reach success in no time.
Why is it important to encourage a wide range of foods in a child’s diet?
It is important to make sure children eat (and enjoys!) foods from each of the 5 foods groups. Each food group contains a specific set of nutrients that is important for your child’s growth and development.
Grains/cereals: provides long-lasting energy to learn, think, play and move.
Meat, fish, dairy, eggs and legumes: provides protein to help with the growth and development of muscles.
Fruits: provides lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep the body healthy.
Vegetables: provides lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber to keep the body healthy.
Milk, cheese and yogurt: helps to develop strong teeth and bones.
If a child dislikes lots of foods, or is cutting out a whole food group, it is likely that they are lacking some nutrients in their diet. It is very important that steps are taken to prevent the impact of fussy eating to ensure that your child is meeting their nutrient needs. Creating healthy habits with food in early childhood sets our children up for healthy relationships with food as an adult.
Why doesn’t my child want to try new foods?
Food aversions can be caused by a range of different triggers. For some children, it is the fear of disliking the taste of a new food. For others, it might be the texture, smell, colour or shape. It is very common for children to refuse foods the first time they are trying it. Introducing foods slowly, and learning to touch, smell, play with or prepare foods are all positive steps towards food acceptance. Below are some tips on how to help your child in their journey to food acceptance.
Tips to Introduce New Foods to Children
Increasing your child’s exposure to food, even without them tasting it, increases their familiarity and decreases their food fears. Below are some ways to increase your child’s exposure to foods. Share these strategies with your families as well as incorporate them into your centre and create learning opportunities.
1. Helping in the kitchen
Getting your child used to touching and preparing foods, even if they do not want to eat them, is an effective way to increase our child’s familiarity with different foods. Some simple tasks you can ask your child to complete may be:
Wash some carrots and pat them dry with a tea towel
Place some chopped fruit or vegetables in a container to store in the fridge
Help with making a sandwich or pizza by placing the toppings on the bread or base
2. Helping during meal times
Getting your child involved with serving meals within the household to get them used to the smell and look of different foods and dishes. For example:
Ask them to help you carry a plate of vegetables to the table
Set the table together
Take “breakfast orders” for the family to learn what other members of the family like
3. Plan meals together
Ask for input on what they feel like eating for lunch or dinner. Ask for their assistance from start to finish with meal preparation, such as deciding on a recipe, going to buy ingredients, preparing the meal and sitting down to eat it together. When shopping together, give your child some responsibility, such as “pick out 3 nice tomatoes that we can use for our recipe”.
4. Play with food together
Getting used to the different sensory properties of foods, without actually eating them, is a good step towards food familiarity. For example:
Making pictures out of foods, such as a smiley face on a plate. You could use blueberries for eyes, a sliced strawberry for the nose, small pieces of watermelon for the lips and cubes of cheese for the teeth.
Making musical instruments with food items, such as filling a jar with rice to make maracas.
Guessing games. Place a food item, such as an apple, in a brown paper bag. Take it in turns to reach into the bag, without looking, and guess what the food could be.
5. Try gardening
Children are generally more willing to try foods if they know that have contributed towards it. Try planting some fruit, vegetables or herbs in your garden and watch them grow together. Once they are ready to be picked, work together to harvest your produce, and let your child know how and when you are going to use the food you grew together.
Remember, food refusal is normal!
There are many ways we can introduce new foods to our child’s diet, before we get to the stage of them actually trying the new foods. Be persistent with offering new foods to your child. As they become more familiar with the new food, they will slowly become more likely to accept it. Some foods may be tricker than others, but keeping a calm and pleasant mealtime environment will help you see the most success.
If you are concerned about your child’s diet, have any questions, or would like personalised information, reach out to one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians for help.
Our team provides nutrition training sessions for educators, chefs and families within childcare centres as well as nutritious and delicious seasonal menus! We’re your secret ingredient to nurture and protect growing bodies. Speak to our team to find out more.