Kid Cuisine: Expanding Your Child’s Food Horizons

We all have our favorite foods. Kids have a knack for choosing some faves and refusing to chow down on anything else, though. So what do you do when you want your littles to expand their palate and eat something other than chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, and peanut butter?

These tips will help you get your child to try new foods with a little less fuss.

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Implement a “two bite” rule

You may have already implemented this rule or one like it. It’s a pretty straightforward rule: everyone (parents included) has to eat at least two bites of everything on their plate. While two bites of any food is unlikely to start a love affair between your kid and the food, it is exposure. And two bites of that same food over the course of many meals may eventually lead to loving it – or at least tolerating it.

The key to making this rule work is keeping it simple: just two bites, period. Don’t insist that they be a specific size (though you can insist they add a little more if they’re only picking up one pea or one green bean). Don’t demand they eat those two bites first or together or anything else. Just two bites over the course of the meal and that’s all.

Depending on your kid, you may or may not want to make a big deal when they eat their two bites.

Introduce one new food at a meal

When you want your kid to try something new, make sure you serve it alongside some familiar and beloved favorites. Try to serve at least three food at each meal and make two of them ones you know your child will definitely eat.

This ensures two things:

  • Your little will not go hungry if they don’t like the new food
  • Your child won’t feel overwhelmed by too many new foods at once

It’s also a good idea to limit the new foods to one per day until your child has started accepting new foods more readily. If you try to do too many in a single day, you risk making a particularly picky eater dread meals and not want to eat. You might even start with every other day or even just once a week to ease into it.

When you want your kid to try something new, make sure you serve it alongside some familiar and beloved favorites. Click To Tweet

Less is more

While we’d all love it if our little foodies would scarf down all of every new food and ask for more, that’s just not how it usually works. With that in mind, start by introducing small amounts of the new food.

My favorite way to do this was to put the two bites from the two bite rule on their plate. Two pieces of meat, two forkfuls of a veggie, two spoonfuls of sauce or soup.

This prevents overwhelm. It also ensures that your child takes two bites that satisfy you.

If your tiny tot eats the small amount and asks for more, that’s great! Dish up a little more and be thrilled. But if they don’t, that’s okay too. They ate their two bites, tried something new, and that’s good enough.

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Repetition, repetition, repetition

It can be tempting to introduce a new food and when your child expresses dislike, add it to the “nope” list. Especially with picky eaters, it can feel like the battle is more struggle than it’s worth.

But repetition is a key aspect of getting kids to like new foods. It can take as many as 8-15 exposures to a food before an infant or toddler accepts it – it might take more with an older kid who is determined.

Of course, you don’t want to keep introducing the same new food at every meal. But don’t give up after just three or four times, either. Incorporate it naturally into your meal rotation so your child is exposed without feeling forced or pressured.

It can take as many as 8-15 exposures to a food before an infant or toddler accepts it Click To Tweet

Be bland with world cuisine

Do you love authentic Mexican, Indian, Chinese or Mongolian BBQ? Wish your child would share your love? They can – but you have to start slowly.

Look for less spicy versions of the foods you love. If you go to a restaurant, ask the wait staff if there’s a way to have less seasoning put on your child’s food if they don’t offer a less spicy version. Look up recipes online and cut the amount  of seasoning.

While many kids grow to love super spicy or unique foods, it’s important to start slowly. Too much spice or unique flavor too quickly can turn kids off a cuisine permanently.

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Be open as a parent

Just as we all have our favorites, we also all have our “I’ll never eat that!” dishes. Mine is Brussels sprouts. What’s yours?

Here’s the thing, though. When we refuse to eat certain foods, we teach our kids that they can do the same. So when we then tell them they have to eat something, we’re sending a mixed message. This mixed message can lead to major food battles.

Obviously, if you have a food allergy, you should avoid those foods. But if it’s simply a dislike, try enforcing the two bite rule for yourself. You may never like the food, but it shows your child that you’re still open to trying it. This encourages them to try it.

What if there’s a real aversion? Maybe there’s a food you don’t eat because you were forced to eat it as a child despite throwing up from it. Or maybe your parents made you sit there until you ate it, no matter how cold or disgusting it got.

It’s understandable. And if that’s the case for you, but you want to show your kids you’re trying, you might want to try a couple of options:

  • Try the food while you’re alone first so they can’t see any negative reaction
  • Ask for recipes and ideas to make the food more palatable
  • Consider working with a therapist to work through your reasons for the aversion

The more open you are to trying new and different foods, the more open your child will be.

Consider rewards

If your youngster does better with external motivation or you want to cut down on blanket refusals, try incorporating rewards.

Don’t offer treats such as dessert, snacks, or that they can have a food they really love if they just eat this food. While it might work, it really only encourages them to try the food to get the food they like better. They might not really pay enough attention to the flavors to know if they like it or not.

Instead, offer non-food rewards. You might offer stickers, or fun small toys. A round of a board game, an extra bedtime story, or an after-dinner swim in the pool might be other options.

You could also offer buildable incentives. Like a chore chart, create a chart that allows you to mark each time your child tries a new food without complaint. After they get a certain number of marks (a full week, 10 marks, etc.), they get a bigger reward.

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Include them in meal planning and prep

It seems cliché to say that kids are more inclined to eat what they helped make, but it’s the truth. The pride in helping to plan and make a meal makes kids much more likely to eat it.

Depending on your child’s age, their involvement will vary. But even small kids can get involved – two-year-old Roman Belville is proof of that.

Try letting your little pick between two new or previously disliked foods. Let them tear lettuce for salads. Put seasonings in a small bowl (the amount you’d want in/on the food) and let them sprinkle it on. Let them stir. Find little ways to involve them and build up to bigger ones as they grow.

If your kid is old enough, you could even allow them to plan and cook a full meal on their own. Take them shopping for ingredients, remain present for supervision and to offer any assistance they may need, but let them take the lead. When kids have complete control over the meal, they’re almost guaranteed to eat every bite.

When kids have complete control over the meal, they’re almost guaranteed to eat every bite. Click To Tweet

Get a checkup

If you feel like you’ve already tried everything on this list and more, it might be time for a visit with the doctor. While picky eating can sometimes just be a matter of favorites, other times it can be an indication of another issue.

Sensory issues, hidden food allergies or sensitivities, and other health problems can also manifest as what looks like picky eating. If you suspect something, start tracking your child’s diet. Include information like:

  • Times they eat
  • What they eat
  • How much they eat
  • What they refuse to eat
  • When and how they use the bathroom after meals (immediately after eating, an hour later, etc.; peeing, pooping, diarrhea, etc.)
  • Any time they vomit, have diarrhea, or have any other bathroom issue that seems out of the ordinary

These details can help you and the doctor see patterns that might not otherwise be visible. It also provides a more complete picture for the doctor. More information means a faster diagnosis.

Don’t give up

You want what’s best for your kids. Whether you have to fight for a medical diagnosis or keep insisting your kid eat two bites, don’t give up on what you know is best for them.

It might take years but many times, your persistence will  pay off with a kid who is willing to try new things even if they don’t always like those things.

What tips and tricks do you have for getting kids to try new foods?

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