We hear it from parents all the time, especially those who are members of our Farm Share. You’ve made the choice to nourish your family with a wide variety of organic produce, only to confront crossed arms and a scowl when you offer these foods to them. Even kids who have grown up snacking healthy will turn up their nose at an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable. After all, that farm-fresh carrot doesn’t look at all like the baby carrots they’re used to.
It doesn’t matter if your kid is two or twelve, or anywhere in between. Most kids will consistently choose the familiar over the unusual. But don’t worry—it is possible to help your kid learn to enjoy new foods. The tips below, tested and proven by parents just like you, will help both you and your child along this adventure in healthy eating.
A Few Ground Rules for the Parents
Before you begin trying these techniques on your kid, it’s important to first work on your own mindset about it.
The first rule of helping your kid learn to eat new foods: don’t give up. Studies have shown that the average child needs to see the new food between 10 and 15 times before they were willing to try it. So don’t let frustration (or temper tantrums) make you cave in. If it’s just not going to happen tonight, try again tomorrow.
The second rule is low expectations. Instead of hoping for your child to change overnight from hating kale to loving it, set your sights on just getting your kid to try a bite of the new food. (If your child is very young, don’t make a big deal if they spit it out.) Remember, every exposure is helping them slowly make friends with this unusual shape, color, and taste. Going from staring at the new food to actually putting it in their mouth is a definite win!
The final rule is perspective. Our eating habits and preferences change a lot as we’re growing up, and even throughout our adult years. So just because your child currently refuses any vegetables besides carrots and cucumbers, doesn’t mean they’ll never experience the joys of tatsoi, parsnip, or watermelon radish. By simply making a wide range of fruits and veggies available and modeling healthy eating habits, you are setting your child on a path for abundant health.
Tips for Getting Kids to Eat New Foods
Drawn from parents just like you, the tips below have helped many families in our community introduce new vegetables and fruits to their family’s diets. Some of these ideas will work better than others, depending on your child’s age and personality. Try them all out to see what works best for you…and remember, if one approach doesn’t work now, it might work later.
Commit to a local farm CSA
No kid can resist opening a box and discovering the surprises inside. Subscribing to a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program like our Farm Share is a great way to make an occasion out of healthy eating. Let your kids help unpack the box, identify all the produce it contains, and brainstorm ways to enjoy it.
Let them see you eating the new food
Kids learn a lot more from what they observe than from what they’re told. So if you want your kid to choose organic fruits and veggies over processed snacks, make sure they see you enjoying a wide variety of fresh produce on a regular basis.
Let them help grow the food
Kids have a natural instinct for caregiving. Channel that spirit into taking care of a garden, and you’ve created an instant connection between your kid and the veggies they are helping raise. Suddenly, those unusual shapes on their plate feel like old friends…friends that just happen to taste delicious!
Another option is to visit a local farm with your child. We’ve seen firsthand that when children learn that their food is alive and growing (just like them), it creates an interest in learning more through taste.
Let them help prepare the food
Just like with growing food, nothing helps a child make friends with their food like getting to put their own love and creativity into it. This can be as simple as putting your kid on a chair and letting them drop pieces of chopped veggies into a bowl, or massaging olive oil and salt into torn-up kale leaves. For older kids, let them help create the menu and find (or invent) recipes for the new vegetable or fruit. Helping cook a new food creates a natural interest in tasting it afterward.
Make sure the food is fresh and cooked simply
Resist the urge to persuade your kid to eat veggies by offering ranch dressing or ketchup, or even homemade sauces. For a child’s palate, sauces and dressings only end up disguising or confusing the new flavors you’re trying to introduce. Instead, let your kid get to know the real taste of squash, broccoli, etc. Roasting veggies at high heat with a little olive oil and salt is an effective approach for making new flavors friendly to young palates. Not only is it a quick and easy cooking method, but it brings out the veggies’ natural sweetness.
Tell them the food is an animal or object they’re familiar with
Who knows why children will make a face at slices of red bell pepper or stems of broccoli, but gobble up “red worms” and “little trees.” But this method is a proven miracle worker for very young children, especially toddlers. If you can find a comparison with a favorite book or TV show, it works even better!
Try “food experiments”
If your kid is putting their foot down, a certain type of compromise can be helpful. One expert-recommended approach is treating the new food like an experiment. Tell your kid that they get to pick out between one and three “try it” foods for the week. Keep the experience positive by approaching it all with an attitude of curiosity and fun. Instead of making it about success or failure, ask your child what they think about the food—what does it look like before and after you cook it, what does the color remind them of, what is the texture like, would any of their friends or family like it, etc.
As you’ve probably guessed, the key to getting your kid to eat new foods is creating a connection with those foods. Since every person creates connections in their own time, it’s vital to keep the “try new foods” process as low-pressure as you can. Patience, perseverance and positivity are the secret ingredients for helping your kid become a healthy, adventurous eater. We guarantee it’s worth the effort—nothing feels better than seeing your child reach for another helping of a meal you know will nourish them.