The celebration continues during March: National Nutrition Month! This time, our blog will focus on a loved population of ours at Lemond Nutrition: KIDS and their amazing PARENTS!
If you are a parent, I bet that you have at some point or another, struggled with getting your child to try a new food. For some, this struggle is more recurrent than it is for others. No matter how often, it is never a pleasant experience. Please know that you are not alone!
New flavors, textures, colors and smells can be overwhelming to a child. Past experiences and the fear of not knowing what it will taste like can stop their otherwise adventurous spirit.
The way adults and children taste food differs because of the differences in our taste buds. Some adults have more taste buds than others. The more you have, the more flavors you can taste! As children’s taste buds develop, some flavors may be a lot more intense that they are for adults. This is because as we age, some of our taste buds may lose sensitivity which makes us less aware to some flavors. Some studies suggest that young ones taste buds are more sensitive to sweet flavors. As little ones grow into their teenage years, their ability to distinguish a higher variety of flavors increases and their sweet preference decreases. Flavor is not just about taste; smell plays an important role in how we taste things…no matter the age. This is specifically true in children who may rely on their sense of smell when presented with a new food.
Now, please do not use the taste bud differences as an excuse to allow your kids to continue to say no to certain foods. I believe that it is necessary for kids to try new foods, including ones they have previously not liked on a regular basis. As an adult, you most likely have experienced liking a food which you previously wouldn’t eat. Yes, you can learn to like new foods! Adding a favorite dip or sauce or cooking the food in a different manner, helps young ones (and the not-so-young too!) experience flavors in various ways. These is just one of the simple tricks that may help your child try foods and accept a flavor that initially was not preferred.
It is through my experience as a Registered Dietitian that in countless occasions I hear kids of all ages tell me they cannot remember the last time they tried something they claim to dislike. How do they know they still do not like it? A few years back I started implementing the “no thank you bite” rule at home. Many families have a variation of this rule at home. The way our rule works is you try the new food, if you like it, you eat it. If you don’t, you say no thank you ONLY after you have tried it. Yes, it was a little harder initially (most new habits/rules are) but now they follow this rule even when I am not with them – at least on most occasions. They actually surprise themselves when they enjoy something new.
There is a song I heard on the show Yo-Gabba-Gabba many years ago that has been stuck in my head for the past 5 years! The lyrics are repetitive but so true! You can hear it here: “Try it, you’ll like it!” (If you can’t watch all 2 ½ minutes, then forward to the 30 sec mark to get the idea!).
I know you are thinking that this all sounds easier said than done. Hey, I am also a mom and struggle with this too! Let me share some tricks that will help you be more successful at offering new foods.
- Do not give up: trust me when I say: Offer it again and again! Repetitive exposure is key to acceptance. You may have heard in more than once occasion that kids have to be exposed to a food close to 20 times before they will accept it. This has actually been scientifically proven.
- Offer new foods first: the beginning of a meal or snack time is the best time to offer foods your child has not tried or has previously rejected. When young ones are hungry, they will be more receptive to trying these foods.
- Start small: when offering new foods, give your child a small taste first. Be patient. Remember the tips above. Focus on the long term benefits of having more variety when planning family meals!
- Mix the new with the old: if you plan a meal with all new foods, meal time will be overwhelming for you and your child. You will be frustrated because your child is not eating and they will be frustrated because too much is new. Offer a variety of foods they already enjoy and add the new food as an extra. Even if they only taste the new food, they will still have plenty of other options to fill their tummies at that meal.
- Do not give substitutions: if you follow the rule above, you will not fall into giving alternatives. Once your child knows mac & cheese is available, why would they try the broccoli?
- Get fancy: and I mean, their kind of fancy! Decorate their plate, let them use a special utensil or napkin. Make meal time a fun time!
- Be an example: you cannot expect your child to try something you are not eating or you say you do not like. Teach by example. Follow the rules too and tell your kids about foods you learned to like as a child and even as an adult!
- Know your child: if they prefer foods mixed in, then offer new foods in a casserole or prepared dish. If the opposite is true, then plain foods they can differentiate may be best – think meat, vegetable and starch.
- Get them involved: grocery shopping, menu planning and cooking together are all great ways to get children working with food, especially new ones! Spending time in the kitchen raises their interest in a variety of foods.
I know this is a challenging job. Parenting is not an easy task! For me, getting my children to learn about food and what it does for our bodies is a big part of all of this. Kids like to learn and they like to be challenged. I want my girls to be exposed to variety and to learn to enjoy nourishing, delicious and fresh food! As adults, we know there is more to food that nutrition. Social interaction often happens around food. Meal time is together time, it is the time we share our stories, it is the time we laugh with friends. I hope these tips - from one mom to another, help you have less no thank you bites at home.
To get you working with these ideas, we are having a contest during March! Post a picture of your child trying a new fruit or veggie and enter to win! For directions, visit the Lemond Nutrition Facebook page here. The prize is an awesome 6-piece Fruit and Veggie Prep Kit! This set is so cool that it may help you even more when getting your little contenders to try new fruits and veggies. Entries will be accepted 3/9-3/31. Winner announced 4/1 (no April Fool's joke on this one!) Good luck and have fun!