Researchers in the UK recently conducted a study with parents and their preschoolers to test the most effective ways to get kids to try a new kind of fruit. I consider myself an adventurous eater, but I have to admit that I haven’t even heard of, let alone tried, two of the three fruits they used in the study.
In the study, the parent/child duos ate lunch together in a child-friendly setting while unobtrusive cameras recorded their interactions. They each received an identical lunch including a sandwich and common side items like potato chips and grapes, as well as the new fruit (the date, physalis or sharon fruit).
The kids who were most likely to try, swallow and enjoy the new fruit had parents who used either verbal prompting (“just try it”, “come eat your date”) or rewarding/bargaining (“once you eat this you can go play”). Interestingly, the researchers also found that those weaned on to solids after 9 months showed the greatest feeding problems.
I have mixed feelings about rewarding/bargaining, but it seemed to work in this study. In my opinion, it really depends on what the reward is – if the reward is a nutritious food that the child already enjoys, it can be a win-win situation. However if, like one parent in the study, the reward is a not-so-healthy option (“if you take a bite, I’ll give you half of my [cookie]”), it may unintentionally teach the child that the cookie is more desirable and the child might expect a cookie every time he or she is offered something new.
My favorite strategy in introducing new foods and encouraging a polite bite is to teach about the food and be a good parent model. If my daughter sees my husband and I enjoying bite after bite of roasted broccoli and we talk about the pretty green color of the florets and how they look like little trees, she is much more likely to take a bite and say one of my favorite phrases “mooor peese!”