If your kid was in charge, she’d have a mac and cheese-, pizza- and cookie-only diet. As a parent, you know that’s definitely not going to happen under your roof, but you also know that often getting your picky toddler to eat anything at all is a chore in itself. So you often settle for what they’ll actually put in their mouth. (Who knew you’d actually be overjoyed when your kiddo ate a hot dog at a barbecue?)
But it may be easier than you think to get your kids to expand their nutrition horizon and explore new, healthier foods. With the right tricks in your toolbelt, you can teach your kids to appreciate fruits, veggies, and whole grains as much as you do. Here are five tried-and-true, expert-approved ways to get your kids to try new foods.
1. Use condiments.
“You’re trying to get them to enjoy or even to try a new food, there’s nothing wrong with adding a little parmesan cheese on top of vegetables, or even a small drizzle of butter,” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutritionist and cookbook author in New York City.
2. Be a cheerleader
“If you make it exciting kids like it more,” says Dyan Hes, MD, a pediatrician and double-board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine. Try letting your kid feed themselves, or get them a new spoon in their favorite color, she says. “Just make it very exciting. Clap for them!”
3. Let your kid be a sous chef.
“If you can get your kids taking part in the cooking process to some degree, whether that’s peeling, chopping, picking out the recipe, they are much more likely to try the food. It may not be their favorite thing in the world, they might decide eggplants [aren’t] for them, but at least they’ve tried it,” says Largeman-Roth.
4. Take them to the farmer’s market.
“I love taking my kids to the farmers market. We don’t do it all the time, but a couple times a season I’ll take them, and say, ‘Hey, if you guys want to pick out something, go for it, and then we’ll bring it home, and we’ll find a recipe together,’” says Largeman-Roth.
5. Observe your own pickiness
“Many, many, many times when I talk to parents about picky eating, I find out that the parents are picky eaters,” says Dr. Hes. If you don’t like your food to touch, or you say aloud that you hate Brussels sprouts, your kid will hear that and may follow suit. “Kids mimic what their parents do,” she says.
When teaching your kids about new foods, remember that persistence is key. “It can actually take between 15 and 18 times of introducing a new food for a kid to even try it,” says Largeman-Roth. So just because your kid doesn’t devour roasted broccoli the first time you serve it doesn’t mean he won’t take it over a few more meals.
“A lot of parents feel like feeding their kids is a really thankless job, but it’s so important because you’re really helping them to develop their palate. Introducing those healthy foods early is really vital for getting them on track to be a healthy eater,” says Largeman-Roth.