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Getting kids to try new, healthy foods can feel like an impossible goal for most parents. Couple that with the challenges we parents face having our kids marketed to incessantly by food companies – not to mention the shelves of our supermarkets lined with all sorts of kid-focused processed food – and it’s no wonder a simple carrot, leaf of lettuce, or fresh tomato holds such little appeal for many children.
Parents have to be vigilant to help our kids eat right, but that shouldn’t be experienced by either parent or child as a burden. No matter how old your kids are, you can get them excited about trying new things, even get it to be their idea, not yours.
Lead by example.
Eating a nutritious and varied diet is something we parents should abide by first and foremost. When kids consistently see their parents trying new foods, it creates a positive impression on them. Eating together as a family as much as possible is also very important. This can be difficult given parents’ busy schedules, but even dinner or breakfast a few times a week matters. Countless studies have shown that families who eat together have better overall nutrition than families who do not.
One of the easiest ways to reinforce your child’s resistance to trying new foods is to press the issue with them. Kids need time to grow accustomed to new flavors, especially babies, so don’t give up if your first few attempts offering something new are unsuccessful. Arm twisting can push kids away from foods they might otherwise enjoy if only given the space to discover it for themselves.
How does your garden grow?
We recently built an edible garden with the kids in our backyard. From a nutritional standpoint, it is one of the single greatest things I have ever done for my family. My son and daughter eagerly tend to it with us, planting seeds, pulling weeds and watering just about everything. Inviting them to take part in the whole process of food from seed to plate, allows little ones to experience ownership over what they eat. My kids get so excited when it comes time to pick and help me come up with ideas for what we’ll make with our bounty. They don’t think twice about trying something new if they grew it....because it truly is theirs. It requires no cajoling, bribing or sneaking on my part.
What if I don’t have room for a garden?
If you live in an apartment or don’t have space for a garden, that’s ok. Get a window box. All you need is a spot with adequate sunlight, some good soil and seeds. Even if your kids take part in growing just one or two things, it will give them an insight into food that most kids rarely, if ever, get these days. Or, go to your local Farmers’ Market, talk with your kids about where the food comes from and get to know your farmers. Let your kids help you pick out what you can cook together. You'll find that making kids active participants in what they eat gets them excited about trying new things.
Freedom of choice.
If you want your child to try a new, healthy food, give him a choice between two things he’s never had before. The element of choice makes it easier, since to your child, it becomes about what he wants, not what you want him to try. Those small steps can add up to big leaps if you work choice regularly into your mealtime repertoire.
If at first you don’t succeed....
If it takes a few, or even numerous, tries to introduce a new healthy food to your child, don’t worry. Persistence and patience will win out. "No food fights” is a mantra I try and live by since kids will frequently meet insistence to try new things with equal amounts resistance. You’d be surprised that not making a big deal out of food will work to everyone's advantage down the road. Furthermore, recent studies confirm that kids self-regulate their own diets, meaning they will ultimately seek out the foods their bodies need at their next meal if not at the current one – and that’s good news for us all.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.