I’m always trying to introduce new foods to my two-year-old daughter, sometimes with more success than others. If you’ve ever tried to offer your child a new food, you know what I mean. Chances are that kids will first say ‘no’ before they’ll say ‘yes.’ This can be extremely frustrating as a parent.
But this is a normal response, especially for two-year-olds. This is the stage where “food neophobia” is at its highest. Basically, food neophobia is the belief that new foods won’t taste good. It’s believed to be a survival mechanism that we inherited from our foraging ancestors who had a legitimate reason to be skeptical of new foods.
But rather than let my daughter’s fear of new foods stop me from introducing them, there’s good reason for me to try even harder. In fact, research published in the British Journal of Nutrition has shown that kids exposed at an early age to novel foods are more accepting of new, different foods when they are older.
Here are a few research-based tips for getting kids to try new foods:
- Be positive: Simply telling your child that a new food tastes good – or tastes like something else they already like – has been shown to increase their willingness to try it. Try talking up the new food and also comparing it to something they know. Example: “Asparagus is delicious! It tastes like a mix between green beans and broccoli.”
- Offer variety: Try to offer a wide range of foods over the course of, say, a month. The more exposure kids have to different kinds of foods, the more likely they will be to try the next new food you introduce them to. Get them used to eating different foods regularly.
- Try these foods yourself: Kids respond really well to modeling. If they see an adult, especially a parent, trying a new food (or even saying they like it), they’re much more likely to try it. My daughter tried oatmeal this way; she insisted she didn’t like it but after seeing me eat it several mornings a week, after about a month she wanted to try some. And she really liked it!
- Present them with familiar foods, seasonings or condiments: Offer the new food with a condiment they’re used to or with seasonings they like. Cut a new vegetable into “fries” and let your child dip the fries into a sauce – ranch, hummus, etc. Or use a combination of seasonings they like, for example with “taco cauliflower” or “pizza fish bites.”
- Start young: Kids even younger than two show huge benefits from early exposure to a variety of foods. Kids exposed at an early age to novel foods are more accepting of new, different foods when they are older. Don’t stress yourself out with feeling like you need to blow your grocery budget or plan extensively to do so, either. Just start with one new food and build from there.