Feeding kids is hard. I don’t know a single person who thinks it’s easy.
One of the biggest challenges I hear from parents is that they struggle to get their kiddos to try new foods and I’ll let you in on a not-so-secret secret. Even as a pediatric dietitian, we struggle with this in my house too. New foods can be scary, and it can be hard to get kids to break out of their comfort zone, and that’s normal!
If you really want to help kids learn to like new food, start by building their food confidence by helping them feel respected, empowered, and competent. Our goal as parents is to teach our kids the skills they need around food while boosting self-esteem and self-confidence. Teaching kids to listen to their body cues and how to communicate their experience is how we help shape their food trust and body trust and form positive eating habits as they grow.
We can help our kids learn to like new foods by fostering their natural curiosity and independence through hands-on play-based food experiences both inside and outside of mealtimes.
Here are some tips on how to get your kids to try new foods in 2023 so you can make the most out of mealtimes with your kiddos.
Tip #1: Think like a kid
Put yourself if your kids’ shoes… Pretend you are visiting a friend and they are taking you out to a restaurant with a cuisine you have never tried before. New to you foods, new to you spices, new to you smells, and new to you preparation methods. How does this make you feel? For some, it may be exciting but for others, it can be an anxiety-inducing storm that paralyzes your ability to be open-minded and eat. You may even lose your appetite.
Now the food is at the table, and it looks completely un-appetizing. What’s a person to do? Your friend is eagerly pressuring you to try it, but your skin is crawling and you’re starting to sweat.
If you were a child without eating skills or the ability to regulate your emotions, you may have an epic tantrum just to get yourself excused from the table.
Whenever I want to offer a new food around the dinner table, I try to think like a kid and be considerate about how that food may make them feel, especially if there is an expectation to eat it.
Tip #2: Change your approach
We as parents put a lot of time and energy into feeding our kiddos because we want them to grow healthy and strong. But it’s important to note that the way we feed our kids often reflects the way we were raised. We perpetuate the food rules passed down from our parents that were likely passed down from their parents. If that’s the case, it may be time for a change in our approach when it comes to feeding our kids.
What if instead of expecting specific preferences and outcomes, we encouraged kids to explore different foods and flavors? What if instead of clean plates, we celebrated curious palates?
Instead of asking how you can get your child to eat a food, let’s help guide and support them, building their self-esteem and self-confidence while they learn about their taste buds and what foods help their body feel good.
Kids mirror what they see us do. Show your kids that you’re excited to try and learn more about different foods too! Consider trying foods that are new for everyone – you included! – and do some taste-testing as a family. You might be surprised to learn that there are new foods you don’t like so much but ones that your kids love or vice versa.
Remind yourself and your kids that everyone has their own individual tastes and preferences. And that’s okay! Keep it positive and be patient.
Tip #3: Check your intent
Yes, we want our kiddos to eat all the things. That is our goal. We want our kids to try new foods and learn to love them – that’s why you’re reading this very blog!
But before we can help our kids learn to like new food, we need to build their skills both inside and outside of mealtimes. We need to give them the tools. And food exploration, as we like to call it around here, can help!
Food exploration is all about sparking your child’s natural curiosity in the ways they learn best – engaging hands-on play that interests them. What interests one child may not interest another so it’s about creating opportunities to learn about and discover new foods with activities that excite each kiddo.
We can turn food exploration into simple teachable moments such as having your kiddo help pick a food out at the store, coloring a food character with a fun fact, making up a story about that food, or even watching a Youtube video about how it’s grown or how to prepare it.
Our intent with food exploration is NOT tied with the expectation that a child will eat that food; it’s about building food confidence and competence.
If you want to cultivate curiosity and invite taste-testing around the dinner table, it’s important to invite kids to experience food in playful and unexpected ways outside of mealtimes too, shaping their food trust.
Tip #4: Communicate mealtime expectations
When you are changing the way you fundamentally feed your family, it’s important to let your kids know about the changes.
You may set new boundaries for meal and snack times of when food will be offered. This may mean you set times that the “kitchen is closed,” or that you will no longer offer a bedtime snack, or you may offer a zero-prep food option they may eat if they are not interested in the meal offered.
You may communicate that you will only be preparing one meal for the entire family, but that you will offer it in a way that your kiddo can pick and choose what they want to eat. (I call this considerate, not catering.)
You may give new tasks around meals such as setting the table, asking to be excused from the table, or clearing their plate when they finish a meal.
You may talk about listening to their tummy. You can help your kids get familiar with their hunger and fullness cues and listen to what their tummies and bodies are telling them with our Hunger Scale Worksheet in our Adventurous Eaters Vault.
You may even teach mealtime affirmations:
- I trust in my body; it can do amazing things!
- I listen to my body/tummy. It tells me when I am hungry and when I am full.
- I can eat when I am hungry.
- I can stop when I am full.
- I can eat my favorite food first!
- I can eat as quickly as I want.
- I can eat as slowly as I want.
- If I don’t finish my meal, that’s okay.
- I do not need to eat if I do not feel like eating.
- I trust in my body; I know what I can safely eat.
- I do not need to eat my food; it’s ok to touch, lick, or smell it.
- I can decide how much, or how little, I want to explore my food
Tip #5: Shift your kids to a growth mindset
We want to shift our kids to a growth mindset about food, helping them believe that they can learn, grow, and adapt to how they feel through experiences. Having a growth mindset about food doesn’t mean that they like everything, it means that when they have a bad experience, they can use that experience to learn about their body, their preferences, and be open to new experiences to learn more.
When your kids explore something new, make sure to encourage them even if they didn’t try it or if they didn’t like it, and let them know it’s part of being a Food Explorer.
Consider trying that same food again in the future using different preparation techniques or recipes. Sometimes it’s not the food itself that a child doesn’t like, it’s the way it was prepared. Also, it may take several exposures to a new food before kids develop a taste for it.
Another way we encourage a growth mindset is with positive food mantras – we never “yuck” someone else’s “yum,” and we encourage kiddos to use kind words to talk about food.
Tip #6: Invite your kids to become food explorers
Kid Food Explorers come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. And they all have different comfort levels when it comes to interacting with new foods.
Being a Food Explorer is all about having fun with food without the pressure through an interactive experience that sparks curiosity and gets kids excited about food.
Food Explorers can use their bodies to visit farms and see where food is grown, markets to help pick out new foods to investigate, the forest to learn about foraging, or even in front of a computer screen to discover foods from faraway places.
A Food Explorer can:
📖 read about a food
👩💻 research a food
🔬 do science experiments with a food
👩🍳 prepare a food
🤹♀️ play with a food
👁 look at a food
👂 listen to a food
🖐 touch a food
👃 smell a food
👅 taste a food
And so much more!
Tip #7: When it comes to exploring, let your child lead the way
It’s important to remember that getting your kids to try new foods is a process, and it may take some time for your child to become comfortable enough with something new. Don’t pressure them into eating a food that they aren’t ready to try yet. Give them plenty of time to explore and become familiar with new foods in their own time.
Sometimes the best way to start engaging your kids around a new food is away from the dinner table, in a neutral environment where they don’t feel pressured to try anything.
You know your child best, so it’s important to guide their exploration in a way that works for them. Some children may want to jump right in while others may need more encouragement or support.
Some kids love learning about where foods come from while others love doing foodie science experiments. Other kids enjoy getting hands-on in the kitchen. Allow your child to take the lead and explore foods in a way that interests them. You can check out our blog, Instagram, or Youtube for inspo!
Here are a few ideas:
- Put googly eyes on the food and place it in their play area
- Make up a story together about a food
- Read books with food characters
- Do STEAM activities
- Color them or use them to practice their ABCs!
Tip #8: Commit to trying one new food a month.
And let your kids pick! This will help them stay interested in the process. Ask them to pick a vegetable, a fruit, or another food item at the grocery store that’s new to them. Or let them choose an ingredient for a meal you’re making at home.
Our Rainbow Foods Worksheet is a fun, kid-friendly way to motivate them to try new things! Have your kids use this worksheet to brainstorm and plan out all the fun foods you’re going to learn about and explore from each color of the rainbow.
You can also use our free Monthly Food Exploration Worksheet to track your progress. Each time you explore a new rainbow food, have your kids color it in on the worksheet. They don’t need to taste-test a food to call it a win – getting silly with a turnip dressed as a baby doll or taking a whiff of a pungent red onion is a win. It’ll help build their confidence.
We also have a Food Explorer Certificate of Awesomeness to celebrate your kids’ exploration success. You can grab all three of these printables – the Rainbow Foods Worksheet, the Monthly Food Exploration Worksheet, and the Food Explorer Certificate of Awesomeness – in our free Adventurous Eaters Vault!
Tip #9: Make being in the kitchen fun!
When it comes to trying to get your kids to try new foods, the kitchen can be a great place to get them comfortable and acclimated to a food that might be strange to them. Turn cooking into an adventure and make it part of your family’s weekly routine. Try using a cookbook or Pinterest recipes to create something new for dinner. Let your kids be involved in the process by helping you pick out ingredients, mixing them together, and then tasting the final product.
The more they see the food and interact with it before it gets to the table, the less scary or weird it will seem when they actually sit down to eat.
Tip #10: Talk about food!
Make sure to talk with your child about what they’re eating beyond simply asking if they like it or not. Ask them what flavors they noticed, how they felt about the texture, and if it reminded them of another food they have tried before.
Our My Food Explorer Mats and Comparison Mats are a great way to help kids learn how to explore different foods with their five senses, and more importantly, start to vocalize what they like and don’t like about certain foods so that you can better understand how to help them enjoy them.
Remember, success is measured by fun food interaction, not by taste testing. Helping kids learn to like new foods is not about raising obedient and compliant eaters today, but rather curious and competent eaters for a lifetime.
You can transform mealtimes and it starts with the way you approach food. We promise it doesn’t have to be a stressful or time-consuming process. With the right mindset and creative tools, you can make it an enjoyable learning experience for everyone! Have fun exploring with your kiddos and don’t forget to celebrate all the wins in between!