It’s not always easy to get your kids to try new foods, but expanding your kids’ palates is important for several reasons. It’s good for them nutritionally, it makes for better manners, and people who don’t make a stink about what they eat tend to be more pleasant to be around (or at least make easier house guests!).
So, how do you raise a child who is willing – if not eager – to try new foods?
- Involve them in the raising of the food. Most of us don’t have room to raise cows or pigs, but we can put a pot of herbs on a sunny windowsill or a tomato plant on a balcony. It’s satisfying to eat what we’ve watched and help grow.
- Add new, healthy foods to their favorite dishes. When asked what they want for dinner, many kids respond: “mac and cheese” or “pizza.” It’s okay to oblige these requests, especially when the homemade versions can be downright healthy. Try those herbs and tomatoes you grew on a fresh pizza topped with other fresh produce, or use whole wheat pasta and broccoli in your mac and cheese. Try the Veggie Pita Pizza or Mac n Cheese Muffins for some healthy alternatives.
- Involve them in cooking their meals. Kids as young as two or three can do simple tasks around the kitchen. Peeling carrots, shelling peas and washing lettuce are some examples. Let your kids get their hands dirty during meal preparation and watch them become more adventurous at the table. Try creating the Fruity Pita Sandwiches or Pineapple Pork Kebobs with the kids.
- Make mealtimes an adventure. Use mealtime as a way to learn about different cultures and languages. Graduate-level study is not required here. You can simply try serving an Italian dish while saying “grazi” and pointing to Italy on a map. Try the Savory Stir Fry from China or the Mini Mexican Potatoes from Mexico.
- Let the kids watch you be adventurous. Kids will be more likely to try new foods and enjoy a well-rounded diet when their parents set that example. Let them know when you’re trying a new food, and how you feel about it.
- Start early and often. Present a variety of foods to your kids from the start. There is no rule that says kids have to love hot dogs and chicken nuggets. I’ve known kids whose parents have avoided these foods altogether, and the kids favorites have instead become hummus and black beans.
- Resist the urge to lose it. It can be terribly frustrating to prepare a well-balanced meal only to have your child complain and refuse to eat it. Remember that as your reaction gets bigger, theirs will too. If you keep calm and state, rather than battling, negotiating, or badgering them to eat their meal, they may be more apt to comply.
- Don’t give up. Just because your child has turned her nose up the past 10 times you have served her broccoli, doesn’t mean you should give up. Kids need to be exposed to new foods many times before they try or like it. You never know when tonight might be the night they decide that they love salad.
- Learn together. If you run out of ideas, check the Produce for Kids site for new recipes, watch a YouTube video on how to make the perfect egg or pick up a kids’ cookbook at the library. Whatever you do, do it with your kids. Their cooking (and thus eating) prowess just may surprise you.
- Keep your expectations realistic. I would love to say that my kids crave international cuisine and beg for sushi. That’s just not the case – it’s not realistic for most kids (or adults for the matter). Striking a balance between old standards (hamburgers, tacos) and more adventurous faire (tilapia, sweet potatoes) will give everyone in your home the best chance for good health and happy mealtimes.