Research has found that exposing children to different types of food from a young age increases the chance that they will both try and like them. Along with children’s own predisposed tastes, parents can play a large part in shaping food preferences. Usually, parents begin introducing solid foods between four and six months of age and are counseled to introduce foods one at a time to ensure that there is not an allergic reaction. However, even beginning to introduce a variety of foods at this age may lead to greater food acceptance as kids grow.
Researchers have specified that it takes eight to ten different exposures to a food before children may try it.
Following the notable Ellyn Satter method of “Division of Responsibility in Feeding,” it is up to the parent to provide the food and the children to decide whether or not to eat it – meaning parents should not try to coax or coerce their children to eat what is prepared, only ensure that a good variety of food is prepared at consistent times. This teaches children to listen to their own bodies and to learn to try and enjoy new foods on their own timetable. With this method in mind, introducing a new food in a positive and relaxed way may help children to accept and further develop food preferences over time.
Letting children experiment with both the taste and texture of food is important. Many times this means letting children make a mess and play with their food or spit it out. Children are not being rude, but are learning and discovering. Consider it a success!
Being a good example of good eating habits by eating the same foods with your children is also important for increasing food acceptance. Avoid conflict, criticism, and labeling your children as “picky eaters.” Trust your children’s appetite and remember that it is the accumulation of food and nutrients that matters most – not just one day. Here are some tips from the American Dietetic Association:
• Offer new foods at the start of meals. Children are most hungry then!
• Serve at least one food your children like at mealtimes.
• Avoid asking your children what they want to eat. The parents’ job is to provide the food; the children’s job is to eat or not.
• Avoid telling your children foods that you do not like. Let them discover for themselves!
• Give new food a proper introduction. Tell your children its name, color, how and where it grows, how it tastes, etc.
• Serve the same food in different forms at separate mealtimes. (e.g. raw carrots with ranch and cooked carrots in a stew)
• Give your children enough time to eat (15-30 minutes) and make sure they have a comfortable spot where they can reach and see the food well.
Molly Roemer graduated with a degree in Dietetics from BYU and currently resides in Alamo. She enjoys food and family and seeks to enrich the lives of others through both. Email questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.