Kids are notoriously picky eaters. So how do you get them to try new foods?
I’ve found a few different ways to get my daughter to try new food (including vegetables!) And it’s easier than you think it is.
Exposure and Time
Exposure to new foods will eventually get your kid to eat a new food and even like it.
Just think about yourself. When did you start actually liking broccoli or cauliflower?
I’m going to guess not until your twenties because that’s about when I started actually eating it on purpose because I liked it.
It took over 20 years of exposure to broccoli for me to enjoy it. And it took 9 years until I even tried broccoli.
So given enough exposure and time, your child will eat anything.
How to expose your child to new food
The first problem is how to expose your child to new food without wasting a bunch of food every day.
The simple way to do it is only give them one small piece of the new food on their plate whenever you make it for yourself.
Just enough for a taste. Nothing too scary like a pile of broccoli. Just one tiny floret is enough to expose them to it.
Do they have to eat it? No. They do not have to eat it.
Don’t try to make a big deal about it. You’ll just scare them off.
When you set the plate down just point to each food and name them. “You have chicken, rice, corn, and broccoli.”
Just seeing it on their plate counts as exposure.
If you have something like rice or mashed potatoes, a quarter or half a teaspoon’s worth is fine.
A dollop is still exposure without wasting food if they won’t eat it.
Even if you’re giving your toddler their own meal of chicken nuggets or a corn dog, you can still give them a small amount of each food you’re eating.
So their plate can consist of a corn dog, applesauce, one green bean, one small piece of your chicken, and a teaspoon of mashed potatoes.
You’re only getting them used to the idea that it is a food and it’s something they have the option of eating.
Kids rarely have control over their lives so when you give them a choice of what they do and don’t have to eat, you’ll have a better dinner experience.
Over time, they’ll consider eating the tiny thing you put on their plate. It might be the next time you have it or it could be ten years later.
Just keep trying.
Let Them Play with Their Food
Kids learn by playing. So yes, let them play with their food.
Want them to eat cucumbers? Let them make little cucumber sculptures with toothpicks. (I would suggest kids 4 and up for playing with toothpicks.)
While they’re playing they might just get curious and eat one.
Cut up a couple kinds of meat into small bites and have your picky eater sort them into separate bowls. Use either fingers or a fork for fine motor skill development.
Not only are they being exposed to the food, they’re learning how to recognize it and notice it when other people are eating it.
A picky eater is less likely to be disgusted about eating a food if they can play with it and have fun.
And playing with food is worth at least double the exposure because they’re interacting with it.
Sniffing it counts
Did your toddler smell your fish? Like get up and take a good sniff? That counts as trying it.
About 80% of the flavors we taste actually come from smelling the aroma of the food.
So your picky eater smelling tilapia is almost as good as taking a bite. It’s a step in the right direction.
Licking it counts too
The next baby step to trying a new food is licking it.
Yes, licking a new food counts as trying it too.
Your child can taste the flavor of the food without having to worry about chewing the texture of it.
A lot of kids (and adults) have an aversion to food only because of the texture.
I, personally, don’t like the texture of steak. And my husband doesn’t like the texture of coconut.
We still like the flavor, though. So I will eat other forms of beef and even Steakburgers from Steak ‘n Shake. And my husband will eat Samoa Girl Scout Cookies.
Your picky eater just might not like the texture of certain foods. You could try cooking them a different way or incorporating small amounts of the food into a dish.
I only like peas if they’re sparingly used in a casserole, soup, or pot pie. Your child might be the same way.
Maybe your toddler won’t eat cooked carrots but will eat raw carrots. Or vice versa.
Once your picky eater licks a food and determines it tastes good, they’re more likely to eat it.
But don’t give up if they lick it and decide it’s yucky. They might have to lick it a few times before they think it tastes okay enough to eat.
Let Your Kids Help Pick Out New Foods
Take your kids grocery shopping with you to get their opinion on which foods to buy.
Kids love giving their opinion and making choices. It feels like they have more control in their lives.
It’s also important for your child to see the food as it comes. A whole watermelon looks a lot different than cut up pieces. Show them where it comes from and it’s natural state.
Let them choose the type of pasta. Rigatoni or Fettuccine?
And if you need them to choose things that they aren’t excited about (like veggies) bring some stickers with you. Paw Patrol or Frozen or whatever your child likes.
While they are looking the other way, stick an Elsa sticker on the bag of spinach or whatever it is.
They can’t resist the pull of their favorite character. MUST BUY.
Another way to get them excited about new food is to let them put it in the cart.
Even if they’re in the seat, you can hand it to them to put in the back.
They will enjoy helping!
Let Your Child Help You Cook
If your child is old enough to help cook, let them.
Even toddlers can help by mixing, pouring, and stirring. Especially if it’s not hot.
Kids like being a part of the process.
My daughter eats eggs just so she can crack them.
And it’s more exposure to the food you want them to eat. They’re experiencing it with their hands first. They’ll be more likely to eat it.
Peer Pressure Can Work
One of the best things about preschool is that they all have snack together. That means they get to try new foods at the same time.
Or they get to try their friend’s favorite food.
They see their class eating raw carrots and they will eat it too.
You can try peer pressuring your picky eater with siblings or cousins or friends their age.
Show them that other kids like to eat carrots and they’ll think they need to eat it too.
You can always show them how much you enjoy the food, too. But sometimes it works better coming from another kid.
Use Gateway Foods
Chicken nuggets and ketchup are gateway foods. Anything your picky eater actually eats can be a gateway food.
Use chicken nuggets to bridge your kids to other types of chicken or even other types of meat.
My parents got me to start eating shrimp because they told me popcorn shrimp was chicken nuggets.
After eating popcorn shrimp, I was able to try regular shrimp, then grilled shrimp and things like shrimp scampi.
Ketchup can lead to other tomato like sauces like marinara or pasta sauce. Even just actual tomatoes.
Your options are to either lie and say the shrimp is chicken like my parents did, or you can explain that it’s LIKE chicken.
It’s a lot easier to get your picky eater to try a new food if you can say “this is chicken just like the chicken nuggets that you like.”
Explain that it tastes the same or similar. If it can look like the food they already eat, that’s even better.
Another way to use gateway foods is to add things into a meal they already like.
Add veggies to ramen noodles. Add lettuce to a turkey sandwich.
Or explain that “this pasta has chicken in it just like the chicken you like!”
It might not work every time. But if you can make small steps you’ll eventually get from chicken nuggets to shrimp scampi.
How do you get your picky eater to try new foods?
Let me know in the comments below! And tell me what kind of food they refuse to eat.