If you’re looking for ways to get kids to try new and nutritious foods… we are right there with you! Through our meals program, The Nashville Food Project serves nutritious meals and snacks to about 370 different children each week across a number of sites. Our meals team works hard to pack our menus with fresh and nutritionally-dense ingredients -- especially fruits and vegetables. At the same time, we’re giving equal priority to ensuring these meals are culturally appropriate and, of course, delicious. As you can imagine, finding menus that meet all these parameters can be a challenge, especially with often-times picky kids! Here’s some of what we’ve learned about introducing new foods to children.
Start early. If you can, introducing a variety of foods to kids at a young age goes a long way. We see this difference in the kids we’ve been serving from a younger age - offering them new fruits and vegetables daily. By the time they’re older, they’ve seen these foods so many times that it’s become familiar.
Exposure and persistence. Repetition is vital to introducing a child to new foods, and what they’re willing to try can change through different stages of development. Toddlers often like a new food after trying it 5-10 times. Kids aged 3-4 may need to try it 15 times or more. All to say… keep at it! It’s a process.
Make it fun. How you present the food definitely affects how the kids react. If you’re excited, the children will mirror your excitement and follow your lead. Sometimes kids are turned off by the look of a new food, so try different, fun presentations. We have a lot of fun turning healthy snacks into fun animals and characters, and the kids love it!
Don’t force it. Negative reactions to new foods is totally normal! Kids may use food as a way to control their environment because they don’t have a lot of other choices they get to make for themselves. When you can, focus on giving options and encouraging trying new things.
Try different flavors and preparations. If they don’t like a vegetable one way, try a different seasoning or a different way of preparing it. We often try more nutritious takes on foods that are familiar and comforting, like a greek-yogurt based salad dressing instead of ranch.
Balance. If you’re introducing a food you know will be unfamiliar and challenging, offer it alongside a familiar favorite. Or chop up vegetables and incorporate into dishes that are already favorites (for example, adding sauteed squash to a marinara sauce).
Connect to the source of the food. Many studies show when children interact with and understand the source of the food they’re eating, they’re more excited to try it. We’ve seen this first-hand hosting groups in our gardens and our kitchens. Get your kids more involved in growing and preparing the food the eat, and they’ll definitely get more excited to try the fruits of their labor (pun intended).
What are your tips and tricks for getting kids to try new foods?