6 ways to help children taste new foods
For children who are picky eaters, and even more so for those who have a food phobia or ARFID, tasting and eating a new food can be tricky.
Feeding therapists tell us that pressuring a child to try a food, through “just one bite” or a “no thank you” bite might work in the short-term for children who don’t struggle with food, but for those who do, it can make things worse.
Some children need time to explore a food through all of their other senses before they can taste. If they are not happy to hold a food in their hands, they are not going to be ready to put it in their mouths. We can help children to have positive and fun experiences with food, so that they can get to know a food first. Activities such as sensory food play, cooking, grocery shopping, and using the Learn Play Eat app can all help with this.
So while we don’t want to pressure picky eaters, once they are ready try a new food, we’ve found that the following tips can increase the chances of success:
- Offer very tiny tastes of new food – i.e.: pea-sized amounts. If they are OK with that, maybe another time they might eat more.
- Present new foods on a cocktail stick. Somehow, foods on sticks are more fun! You can also try cute animal bento box forks, if that might work for your child.
- Use engaging language like “would you eat this food like a mouse with tiny bites or like a dinosaur with great big bites?” might help to increase their curiosity. Or asking them to describe the food, and think about what it might taste like can get them interested.
- Let them know it’s OK to spit it out if they don’t like it. I struggled with this initially but it has really helped us, and they can learn to use a napkin to collect unwanted food if needed.
- Match it with a food or sauce they like – e.g. apple sauce, ketchup, yoghurt, peanut butter – whatever they like! This might mask the flavour initially, but the amount of sauce used can be reduced over time.
- Offering tastes of dinner at various points during cooking. I find if my son can try a very small taste before dinner is served, he is more likely to be able to eat it. Even better if he is able to help with cooking or seasoning.
Please do let us know if any of these work for your family! And if they do try the food, it’s worth bearing in mind that sometimes it can be best not to make a huge deal about it in front of them. Praise for eating can lead to extra worries about having to please mum and dad the next time they come across a new food. It can also lead to eating just to please others rather than listening to their own bodies.
If they don’t want to taste a food right now, try not to show disappointment or persuade them to do it. For some kids, even just looking at a new food can be a step in the right direction, and the more positive experiences they can have with that food, the more likely they are to be able to eat it, when they are ready. You can read more about ways to help picky eaters in this blog post.