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Getting Kids to Try New and Healthy Foods
"How do I get my child to eat fruits and veggies?" "Is it OK for my child to take a vitamin supplement and then eat anything he wants?" "My child only eats five foods: chicken fingers, fries, applesauce, cereal and milk."
Do any of these questions and comments sound familiar? As a registered dietitian, I hear them on a weekly basis from parents. I am amazed how many "picky eaters" I encounter. I see it from infancy through adolescence. (Actually, I meet plenty of adults, too, who eat the same foods over and over again.) So what are parents to do when their kids are reluctant to try new foods?
Children learn their habits, attitudes and beliefs from their parents and other caregivers, and that includes their willingness to try new and healthy foods. For National Nutrition Month, the American Dietetic Association encourages parents to be good role models and teach their children how to appreciate nutrition and enjoy healthful eating.
Here is what sometimes happens: A parent introduces applesauce to baby. Baby likes it and eats the entire serving. The next week the parent offers pears. Baby tastes it, spits it out and makes a face. The parent does not force it and thinks, "OK, baby does not like it, so I won't offer it again." So baby is only eating the applesauce.
It is true that it often takes multiple tastes of a new food before a child accepts it -- of course, some foods require more offerings than others, and some foods are never accepted. The most important thing you can do is offer your children as many new foods as possible, as early in life as possible.
It takes much longer to accept new foods when you are older, as you may already know. I meet 10-year-old children who have never tried a fresh pear or red pepper. I am also discouraged by the statistic showing that the number one vegetable consumed by toddlers is the fried potato.
Let's commit to changing that statistic -- these tips will get you started:
- When infants are at the stage of trying new foods, offer new foods every few days to see if there are any reactions or allergies. By the time baby is 1 year old, hopefully, baby has a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein foods, including beans, tofu, soft meats and yogurt.
- When toddlerhood (and independent eating) arrives, stick with meal times and avoid filling the child up on cheese, crackers and milk, or juice, before mealtime.
- Let your child see you try new foods. Children are copycats, so if you model an interest in trying new things, there's a stronger chance that your child will, too.
- The most important tip I can give to help get kids to taste new foods is to make sure they are hungry at mealtime. Halt snacking at least one to two hours beforehand and even longer for older children.
- If children are labeled as "picky eaters," guess what? They will be! Let's stop the labeling and eat with our children the most nutritious meals we can provide.
This article was originally published on PBS Parents by Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD. A national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, Sarah Krieger developed and is lead instructor for All Children's Hospital's Fit4AllKids Weight Management and Fitness for Families program in St Petersburg, FL. The program targets families with 8-12 year olds and has a teen program for 13-18 year olds. Krieger and a research team of physicians at the University of South Florida completed a study that determined the outcomes of the program for obese teens. She continues to work per diem for All Children's on the clinical side by working with children at nutritional risk.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.