Anne is the Coordinator of the MA Children at Play Program at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
The best time to form lifelong healthy eating habits is when kids are young. This means offering a variety of foods on a regular basis. Some of these foods will be new to your child. I’m sure every parent can agree that introducing new foods to a child may be easier said than done. Do not fear, there are ways to go about this process that will be fruitful and start them eating better for life.
Instead of serving your child an entire meal of new foods, slowly introduce new foods one at a time. Pair one new food with meals your child already enjoys. For example, if your child likes waffles, let them put some blueberries on top. Start by serving a small amount of the new food, and let your child know they can have more if they choose. Also, offer the new food before the rest of the meal, when your child is the hungriest.
Does your child like plain foods? Try serving the ingredients of a casserole separately before introducing it all together. If your child would rather a mix, combine a new food with familiar foods they enjoy, such as adding some cut up green beans to macaroni and cheese. Find what works for your child.
Making food fun is a good way to get children to try new foods. Choose colorful foods like tri-colored pasta and mixed berries, or help them cut food into fun shapes with a cookie cutter. Encourage your child to make a happy face with the new food before trying it – do things to make food interesting and fun to eat.
Kids are also more likely to try new foods when they’re involved in the planning process! Take your child grocery shopping, or let them plan one meal a week. Let them help prepare the meal with small tasks in the kitchen or setting the table. Name the meals your child helps you prepare – for example, Mandy’s Pasta Salad. This will help them feel proud and excited about this new food! Also kids want to be like the adult in their life, so be a good role model by eating new foods with them.
As a parent, you want your kids to eat healthy foods. But one thing I remind parents to avoid is forcing kids to try something new. Instead of saying “be a good boy and try this” you could ask them to describe the color, texture, and smell of the new food and let them make their own choice. Ask them what they think about the new food, and make it clear that they are not wrong if they do not like it. Do not reward your child with dessert or high calorie foods for trying something new. Reward them with attention and kind words.
Remember this is a learning experience for them.
If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Do not give up the first time your child refuses a new food. Sometimes it may take a dozen attempts before they even agree to try it. Try to stay patient, don’t be forceful, and keep foods fresh and fun!