Sarah Almond Bushell, a leading Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist on the Zoono Family Panel, an initiative that supports the wellbeing of families, offers her advice to parents about introducing children to new foods.
Many parents will know the struggles that come with encouraging children to try new foods. Often, it’s a mental battle, rather about the foods themselves.
We have so much influence over our children’s thoughts around food; their likes and dislikes, how much they eat and their mealtime behaviour. It’s therefore important that parents get it right from an early age to make sure children have a healthy relationship with food and avoid them turning into fussy eaters, refusing to eat or developing weight issues.
How to Positively Encourage Children to Try New Food
1. Take the Pressure Off
When we so desperately want our child to try something new, we can subconsciously pile on the pressure, often without even realising. Children can sense this in your tone and body language, so the first step is to remove all expectation for them to eat what’s in front of them.
Instead, consider your role done from the moment you have decided what they going to eat and placed it down on the table. What they eat and how much they eat is then their responsibility. This will create a more relaxed environment for them to try new things.
2. Serve ‘Family Style’
This style of dining, where you all share a meal together and food is placed in the centre of the table so everyone can help themselves, also gives children a sense of autonomy over what they eat. Even if they choose not to try the new food on the table, simply having it there will help with the sensory acceptance of that food. By seeing it and smelling it from a distance, they will start to recognise the food and make progress towards wanting to give it a try in the future.
3. Play with Food
Food doesn’t have to always been served in the traditional way. As influencers, such as Stacey Solomon, have shown us, you can let your imagination run wild when it comes to how snacks and meals are presented to children. Toddlers are at a developmental age known as ‘magical thinking’ where they often make their food decisions based on what it looks like. Turn sandwiches into animal creatures, use a variety of fruit to make a rainbow, or make faces out of vegetables – the only limit is your imagination.
4. Avoid Rescue Meals
Rescue meals are the meals that you might whip up last minute in desperation because your toddler refuses to eat the first one you slaved over a stove to make. I am sure we have all been in this situation, but it’s important to stand your ground. Be clear with them on what you expect and explain when their next meal or snack will be if they choose not to eat what’s currently in front of them. This way, you’re not allowing them to become fussy eaters as they know that they won’t get their preferred food if they refuse what’s initially on offer.
5. Regularly Serve Something New
Introduce at least one new food to every family mealtime alongside familiar foods that you know they already enjoy. Be clear that your toddler doesn’t have to eat it if they don’t want to. This way, you’ve given then autonomy and removed any pressure for them to try it. They can then come to the table knowing there is plenty for them to eat, while piquing their interest and learning experience by regularly exposing them to new food.
About Sarah Almond Bushell, MPhil, BSc (Hons) RD MBDA
Sarah Almond Bushell is a Registered Dietitian & Children’s Nutritionist with over 20 years of NHS and private practice experience of working with families. She is also currently the nutritional expert on the Zoono Family Panel, an initiative that supports the wellbeing of families through advice from a leading panel of experts.