Getting older kids to try new foods

I have a 5 year old boy and a 7 year girl. During the first 3 years or so, we tried to expose them to different types of food (vegetables, meat, etc.) with good success. But after that, we fell into a pattern of a "fixed" menu, where maybe 10 or 15 different selections were available to them.

Now, whenever we want them to try a different plate, they will almost immediately reject it. Even vegetables that were of their liking when very young, are now not accepted, because we did not continue giving them for the last few years.

My questions are:

  1. Should I try to force them eat all types of food, even if they absolutely reject them?
  2. Or should I wait a few more years, and convince them (reason with them) of the convenience and good taste of the "new" food and tastes?

Thank you.

Question:
ABOUT THE EXPERT

Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

Dear Jose,

Forcing is never a good idea with food. It will inevitably backfire on you by setting up power struggles, eliciting defiance, and all sorts of nasty feelings totally unrelated to the natural act of eating. It makes food become something more than it is. Studies have also shown that children like food less if they are given reward for eating them, perhaps because they reason if they have to get something in order to eat it, it must not be so good. Therefore, in your attempts to get them to try new foods, do not bribe with a reward. They also learn to value food more if it is used as a reward for doing other things. This also puts undeserved weight to that food being used as a reward....do you really want them to think cookies are that great?

Children's food preferences reflect those of their parents. You can be very helpful in demonstrating eating new foods. I suggest you serve those foods that you would like them to eat. Offer some to them in a positive manner. Do not force them to eat it, or even taste it. Let them see you eating and enjoying it.

If they don't eat it do not be a short order cook and serve something different, however, be sure there is at least one thing they like in the meal, and perhaps a basket of bread. If all they eat at a particular dinner is bread...so what? There is always another meal coming soon. It is not so important that they eat all the right things all the time.

Continue to serve these foods you would like them to come around to. Let them see you eating and enjoying them. They may eventually try them and even like them. They will like them best if they come to terms with it on their own.

You will also need to respect that they will have likes and dislikes, just as you do, and they may never come to like some of the foods you wish they would. Plus you will need to give it lots of time. It may take weeks, months, years, before they will enjoy eating that particular food item you so wish they would.

My son watched my husband and me eating artichokes for many years. Finally, at age 6 or so, he decided to try them to, and now he loves them. The same is true for avocados. But you know, despite years of watching my mother eat cooked spinach sandwiches, I still cannot bring myself to eat one.

That's life and that's eating. Be relaxed about it. Set up mealtime rules you can live with, ones that do not include forcing one to eat, or drink, or to clean the plate, but of course can include such things as requiring at least 15 minutes of sitting at the table before being excused, POLITELY refusing unwanted foods, and keeping the mess to an age appropriate limit.

In response to your question #2, I think you can start now to subtly convince them of the good taste of the new food simply by how you respond to it.

Good luck and enjoy serving those new foods, even if the kids won't eat them yet.

Thank you for writing.

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