Feeding Children and Families

Children--and some adults--are naturally skeptical about new foods.

Skepticism about new foods in children is not unusual. The same is true for many adults. Parents may find it's just easier to stay with the familiar and comfortable things they're used to serving. But taking the path of least resistance--limiting the menu to foods their children like--quickly becomes as ho-hum as  the kids' menu at your local restaurant.

Maybe you've decided to expand your family's food repertoire and want to try some new foods or new ways to prepare familiar foods. So how do you get your family on-board?

One of the most common approaches parents take to get their kids to try new foods--one many of us grew up with--is the one-bite rule or no-thank-you helping. This approach nearly always results in a power struggle. He will take a bite to please his parent. But a bite or two under pressure rarely leads to the child truly liking the food.

You may find it helpful to know that children are naturally selective when it comes to food. Some children are sensitive to texture and gag easily or even throw up. Some children can detect bitterness in food that tastes fine to everyone else. Some children don't do well with new experiences of any kind including new foods.

Despite it all, children don't see these natural tendencies as setbacks. Children want to eat what their parents eat--eventually.  As with most new things, learning takes time. Children rarely eat a new food the first time it's served--exceptions being sweets and French fries! The rule-of-thumb for fully exploring new foods is to give it 5 to 20. That is, children need at least 5 and as many as 20 neutral exposures of a new or unfamiliar food before they learn to like it. On average, though, parents offer a new food only 3 times before giving up and not offering it again.

Consider keeping all the foods you want to serve on the menu rotation. And enjoying them yourself! Meal planning that pairs new or challenging foods with familiar foods is helpful for everyone at the table. For example, serve broccoli (unfamiliar food) with macaroni and cheese (familiar food). So long as there is no pressure to try the broccoli, your child will leave the table content with one more neutral exposure to broccoli. You won't know until it happens--when that next time for broccoli is the one. And you get to  expand your family's variety one food at a time.

Learn more about feeding children in the 3-part webinar, Raising Good Eaters.

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