Eating Crisis Averted

Enticing picky eaters to try new foods.

Is your finicky eater unwilling to taste a new food? It’s normal! Studies show that picky eaters often have to be exposed to a new food as many as ten to 15 times before even tasting it.

Children trust familiar things in their lives and are often suspicious of something new and different, including what they eat. Foods with an unusual appearance, color, smell or texture may be especially off-putting to a young child. That’s why repeated exposure helps to make unusual foods become commonplace. The child is then open to the idea of tasting it. Implement the following tips and you might be surprised at what your child enjoys at future meals.

Introduce new foods a piece at a time.

Begin by putting a tiny bit of the new food, such as two chickpeas or one brussels sprout, on your child’s plate along with regular favorites. Don’t expect him to eat it and don’t comment if he pulls the food apart, smells it or smashes it. Allow the experimentation to occur— it’s the first step to acceptance. If you’ve displayed the new food on your child’s plate five or six times and he still hasn’t eaten any of it, then gently encourage him to take one bite to see what it tastes like. Don’t overreact if your child grimaces or spits it out. Just wait a week or two and try again.

Dish repeat appearances.

Pick one or two new foods at a time and rotate putting one on your child’s plate three or four times per week for several months. When he sees a food enough times, he’ll eventually give it a try.

Top it or mix it.

Add an “acceptable” topping, sauce or mixture to a new food. For example, spread some peanut butter atop celery or mix some broccoli into rice.

Put on a good show.

Let your child observe you eating the new food. Mention to your spouse or a friend that you enjoy what they eat so that your child’s hears your comment. Studies reveal that when children are certain their parents or other important people in their lives truly like a food (not just eat it out of duty, but actually enjoy the food), they decide it’s a good thing to try for themselves.

Get a partner in crime.

If you are eating with another adult, offer that person a taste of the new food. Ask him or her in advance to try it willingly and declare the bite tasty. When a child sees someone else being adventurous, he may be more willing to partake.

Dole out an appetizer portion.

After your child has tried the food and found it at least minimally acceptable, meaning he doesn’t spit it out or gag on it, offer the fare as an appetizer before dinner is served. If your child is hungry, and it’s the first thing provided, he may actually take a bite or two.

Serve it as a side dish.

Add a new healthy side to a favorite meal. Raw veggies, applesauce, mixed fruit or a serving of yogurt may share the plate with meals your child favors, like macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets.

Modify portions.

Serve the same foods as usual, but alter the portion sizes to increase the healthy options and decrease the less nutritious ones. For example, slightly up the amount of lean proteins, vegetables and whole grains for your family, and slightly reduce the servings of processed foods and desserts.

Inch toward nutritious recipes.

Examine your child’s preferred eats and make subtle changes to create healthier versions. By making small adjustments over time, your child’s taste buds adjust until you can finally replace the old version with a more wholesome alternative. For instance, in a PB&J sandwich, replace one slice of white bread with whole wheat, mix one-half of sugar-based jelly with one-half fruit-only spread and replace a portion of the processed peanut butter with a low-sugar, non–trans fat version. Over time, increase the amount of the healthier ingredients.