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How do I get my child to LOVE new foods?

Posted by admin Tuesday, February 05, 2013

It’s February – the month of love! 

How do I get my child to LOVE new foods?

Here at Yummy Discoveries, we know that it can be a minefield trying to work out how to introduce your little one to new foods, especially if you’re used to the “I don’t like it!” refrain.
But fear not! We are here with some handy hints and tips to help things go more smoothly, so that you can support your child in developing lots of new ‘loves’ of a wide range of foods.
Well, first things first – you need to know what you’re dealing with:
  1. Likes and dislikes are not stable under the age of 5.  This is backed up by scientific research. A study was conducted where children under and over 5 chose their favourite ice cream flavours, and the under fives didn’t choose the same flavour from one day to the next. That means that your little one might choose something one day and say they don’t like it the next day. Just keep offering foods.
  1. Does I don’t like it mean I don’t like it? The short answer is no. Anyone who has a toddler knows that there’s nothing more suspicious and untrusting of new food than a 2 year old. Believe it or not, that’s normal, as once a fear of new food (neophobia) was originally designed to stop little mouths from eating poisonous berries once they became mobile.
  1. Does no mean no? Research also showed that toddlers often say ‘no’ as it’s an easy word to say, rather than because they actually mean no.
  1. Isn’t a roasted carrot the same as a raw carrot? No, not to your child. Every time even one dimension of a food changes, it’s a new food to your child. So grated carrot is different to carrot soup, pureed carrot, roasted carrot…you get the picture. So you need to treat each new form of a food as a new food. Even using a different word can be enough to make a child reject a new food (e.g. if you usually use the word ‘meat’ and one day say ‘beef’, your child may well say “I don’t like it” because they don’t associate the word with the food they know.
  1. Are you inadvertently making your child’s dislikes stronger? Putting pressure on your child to try a food or finish it means that you are creating a dynamic where they are likely to resist that pressure, resist you and therefore the food.
  1. Should I bribe them to try a new food? No. If you try this, you’re setting up ‘good and bad’ foods (e.g. eat this and you can have a chocolate). You’re also starting to ‘beg’ your child to do something, and this opens up the opportunity for an ever intensifying battle for control. It might work once, but when they learn that you really really want them to eat that food and if that’s your way of addressing things as a rule, you’ll end up in battles you don’t need.
  1. Should I force my child to have a food they say they don’t like? No. Your aim with all food issues is to enable your child to make choices about food. Forcing them is more likely to create a negative association with that food and maybe with the eating experience. They will undoubtedly get stressed and that inhibits digestion and desire to eat, so that’s the last thing you want to do. Try not to worry and just remember that your job is to help them make their own choices.  
  2. Do children ‘like’ what their body needs? We’ve heard this being bandied around as advice recently and love the idea and we have only one thing to say to that: If our children ‘knew’ what their bodies needed, we wouldn’t have any fussy eating problems, because children would always eat what they needed. So eating only chips and toast would mean thatwas what their body needed.
So how do I introduce a new food to my child?
Well, when it comes to food (and actually, when it comes to most things, if you think about it), love is all about familiarity. You can’t love something you don’t know.  So here are some tips:
  1. Never spring a new food on your child. You play with that food  with your child a few times (not at mealtimes, so that you’re not bothered whether they eat it). For example, show them the food and ask them to play a game with you, to help you see what it’s like. For example, is it red like a strawberry? Is it cold like ice cream? Give right and wrong answers and make it fun. Get your child to help you cook with the food, just to get them familiar with it.
  1. Give them a small portion of the new food initially (e.g. one spoonful). A big portion of a new food can feel overwhelming for a child. Remember, you only want them to try it, or to engage with it in some way (even if this is squidging it in their fingers and that’s it, initially). So give them a small bit of the new food and let them discover it, while you model enjoying it, if possible (they need to see that new food is safe and you’re the one to show them this). But don’t put any pressure on them.
  1. Allow them to make an A and B choice when this food is being introduced. Depending on your child, you could either ask them to choose between two new foods (that you’ve spent some time familiarising them with) or you could ask them to choose between two foods they like and make the ‘high hierarchy’ choice for them. For example: We are having peas (new food) tonight - would you like pasta or shepherds pie with them?
  1. Try to use a safety net food, to add some familiarity so that they feel safe. If your child likes yoghurt and you want them to try cucumber, you could make cucumber dip. Then the yoghurt is reassuring and it will make the cucumber seem slightly less strange and scary.
  1. Familiarity takes time. Research shows that you need to offer your child a new food between 15-20 times before you think you’ve got a problem with it. Don’t offer the same thing every day, every other day is fine. If you’re getting nowhere, give up on that one for now and try something else. Go back to it later. No foods are permanently in the ‘dislike’ camp, until your child is old enough to have stable likes and dislikes. Sometimes, it’s obvious that your child really doesn’t like a certain food. If they’ve tried it many times and they don’t usually say this (so you don’t think it’s a pattern for them), then that’s fine. You’ll need to use your intuition on that one.
  1. If they say “I don’t like it”… don’t take it away. Just say: “Oh that’s ok, you just haven’t tried it enough times yet!” If they ask you to remove it, don’t. Use positive statements so that your child knows how you expect them to behave around food: “If you don’t want it, just leave it.” Small children can’t really understand instructions involving “Don’t”, as it’s too much of an abstract concept.
  1. Don’t make a big fuss when your child tries the new food. Of course, the odd ‘well done for trying it’ doesn’t go amiss, if this can be said in a way that feels like it’s a normal part of eating/living and you’re praising them in the way that you would if they did something else normal. However, don’t congratulate them or focus loads of attention on them if they try a new food – you want to act like it’s normal for them to try things, as it should be! A child’s instinctive reaction is to reject new foods, remember, so if you suddenly put the spotlight on them, they’ll be likely to retreat. This is particularly so if you see your child try a new food that they have rejected until now. Sometimes children will also try a food if everyone else is eating it and they feel left out (e.g. at a party). Let them do this, as there’s no such thing as good and bad foods. If they are trying a new cake, that’s fine, as long as their entire diet isn’t made up of cake, and you are in control of that!
  1. Model eating the new food yourself. This counteracts neophobia and helps your child to get curious about what everyone else is enjoying and they might be missing. Children want to be included, so use this to your advantage, as well as showing them that the new food is safe to eat by eating it yourself.
 Good luck! And we hope that your little one will have some new food loves before long!
image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net


We like to set our little ones a good example and encourage sharing. We don't mind you using any of the information, recipes and tips from our website, all we ask is that you credit us hard-working mummies here at Yummy Discoveries. 
Thank you x