“You won’t know if you like it until you try it.” These words of wisdom come from my 4-year old nephew. Whew! After he said this, I told him he should come work for me because this is one of the main messages we try to share with adults and youth through our nutrition education programs. I think he is wise beyond his years (and has awesome parents who encourage him to try new foods).
Did you know that it may take about 12 tries to like a food? Think back to the last time you tried something new. Did you automatically love it on the first try? Maybe…or maybe not. Maybe you tried that food again at a different time and then experienced a little better affinity for it. Your child may be having the same experience.
Children might be picky in different ways—including being unwilling to try new foods, only eating a certain type of food for a while, wasting time at the table, or refusing certain colors or textures. If you have a picky eater at home, don’t fret too much. There are some strategies you can try to make your family eating experiences a little more pleasant.
- Offer choices. Instead of just handing them a plate with pear slices on it, ask them: “Would you like apples or pears or both?” You might be surprised by their answer! This helps them understand they are going to be served a fruit, and also gives them an opportunity to choose which one. Children can help you pick out foods at the grocery store. They tend to be more willing to try a food if they help pick it out or prepare it.
- Offer small portions. An adult sized portion of a food could be very daunting to a small child whose tummy is smaller than an adult’s. Allow them to have a small taste of the new food. If they like it, by all means, allow them to have a little more!
- Appeal to their senses. Offer a plate with a variety of colors, shapes, and textures. A great way to work different colors into your meal is by including foods from each MyPlate food group. Offer different forms of a food. Your child might like fresh strawberries better than frozen strawberries, or coin-shaped carrot pieces better than whole carrots.
- Model positive eating behaviors. Parents are strong role models for kids when it comes to eating. What do you think is going through your child’s mind if you ask him/her to eat broccoli and yet you won’t eat it?
- Be positive. Use positive phrases with your child while they are working on developing healthy eating habits.
- Be persistent. Offer new foods many times. Sometimes, it just takes a little while for a child to “warm up” to a new food.
I can use my “pickiness” with celery as an example. See the celery in this picture? Well, I would refuse to eat raw celery as a child. My mom continued to offer it to me and even tried putting peanut butter, ranch dip, or cream cheese on it. It still was not appealing to me. She tried offering cooked celery to me in soups, casseroles, stuffing, and other recipes. Eureka! I actually ate the cooked celery in those foods! Her persistence and willingness to offer it in different forms helped me change my opinion of celery!
The next time you are offered a new food or have the opportunity to try a new food again, go ahead and give it a try! You might like it…or even love it!