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Learning to Like New Foods Takes Time

Children’s tendency to like things that are familiar means it can take time to introduce new foods. Some children need to be served a new food 15 times or more before they will even try it. Parents may become frustrated and discouraged after such repeated refusals. It is important for parents to be reminded that their role is to serve meals and snacks at about the same time each day and to choose the foods that are served. The child’s job is to choose from the foods served which ones they will eat or not eat.

Parents often think that it is their fault their children are not “eating well” and try even harder, which can backfire. Research finds that pressure to eat can result in children eating without being hungry and also a reduced preference for eating the food in the future. Some studies even find it is related to increases in food neophobia. When children are pressured to eat foods they are not ready to eat, they lose touch with their ability to tell when they are hungry or have had enough to eat, they don’t enjoy their meals and they can become stressed and miserable. So it is important to give parents the tools to introduce new foods to their children in a healthy and effective way. Repeated exposure to new foods without pressure lets children try them when they are ready.

Helping parents understand that picky eating, especially in young children, is typical can help increase their confidence in effecting change. With patience and time, and without pressure from parents and others, most children who are offered a variety of foods will eventually learn to eat a good variety of foods. Limiting foods to only those foods that they already love limits their chances to get used to a wider variety of foods. Research shows that dietary behaviors are largely set during childhood so exposure during these early years is important to a lifetime of healthy eating.

Toddlers and Preschoolers are more likely to try new foods when:

  • They see adults eat them.
  • They can explore them first – touch them, squish them, smell them and more.
  • They get to make choices – “would you like peach or cucumber slices for a snack?"
  • Foods are offered (e.g. put on their plate or table) but they aren’t forced to try them.
  • New foods are served with familiar ones.
  • They are allowed to explore the food without eating it (e.g. touching with fingers or tongue, tasting/chewing and spitting out).

School-age Children are more likely to try new foods when:

  • They see adults eat them.
  • They see their friends or classmates eat them.
  • They are involved in growing them.
  • They help choose them at the store or Farmer’s Market.
  • They help prepare them – allowing them to help cook meals.
  • They see it as an adventure – trying a new ethnic restaurant.