Mental Health

4 ways to get your child to try new foods outside of mealtimes

Anyone want your child eating more variety throughout the day? If you do, you are not alone. As a pediatric dietitian and feeding expert, one of the questions I get asked most often is how to get a child to try new foods. We can get there, but it’s so important that we focus on doing this without bribery or forcing. Why? Because we want our kids to WANT to choose these foods, and as they get older, to eat these foods even when we aren’t making them do so. Allowing kids to try new foods takes time and patience. But when we focus on this as our only goal, we miss out on a lot of smaller wins in between. Research shows it can take up to 15-20 or more exposures of a food before a child eats it. Let’s shift our focus, shall we? Let’s think about exposure and interaction with new foods as a way to make progress. And part of that is the exposure outside of mealtime. Let’s talk about 4 ways to get your child to try new foods outside of meal time.

I’m not sure about you, but for many families I work with in my private practice or group program, mealtimes are really stressful. Parents are making sure dinner is on the table before it gets too late. Many kids are in melt-down mode and want to do anything but sit. Mealtimes can feel exhausting.

So what do we do? Shift the exposure of new food. Think about doing this outside of mealtimes.  Doing this when the pressure is totally off and everyone’s stress level is lower can make a world of difference is giving your child free range to explore something new, on their own time.

 Here are 4 ways to help your selective child interact with new foods outside of mealtime:

1.         Food play. This can be as simple as stacking crackers, or creating a pattern with carrots and peppers. Or it can be more intricate, like making edible play-dough out of chickpeas.  Remember, exposure here is what is important.  Even if your child doesn’t try a new food, exposing them to something new is how they learn to like something new.

2.         Kids in the kitchen. My favorite way to exposure kids to something they may not eat at mealtime. If they don’t want to interact with the new foods, let them watch.  Maybe they will want to mix?  Or smell?  Or taste?  By taking mealtime out of it, we create more opportunity to try something new.

3.         Create a new feeding space. Have a picnic, eat dinner al fresco. Just by changing up the scenery you are creating a new feeding environment, which may be just what your child needs to interact with something new.

4.         Perform a fun food experiment – be a food explorer.  Take a carrot, bell pepper and cucumber – which has the loudest crunch when you bite into it (or when you break it into pieces for a child that may not be ready to bite)?  We may have a few different dips (ranch, hummus, oil and vinegar) and dip something inside to “rate” the flavor Or a smell test: close your eyes and guess what you are smelling. Is it a lemon? Or an orange?

There you have it. Four ways to get your child to try new foods outside of mealtime. Remember, these should all be fun, and can be as simple as you want. You don’t have to spend hours doing these activities with your family – work a few minutes a week into your lifestyle. And remember, the more we can expose kids to new foods, without any pressure to eat the food – the more we are giving them the internal motivation to eventually try that food and in turn, helping to form a healthy relationship with food for life.

Want more tips? Make sure to get my free guide, 4 steps to help your child try new foods. It’s filled with practical things you can do right now to help your child try new foods.

4 ways to get your child to try new foods outside of mealtimes