3 Ways to Encourage Your Kids to Try New Foods

Are there foods (maybe some vegetables…) that you just don’t like? Can you think of a time from your childhood when you decided that you didn’t like that particular food?

I can think of many instances where I discovered I didn’t like certain veggies as a kid. One of those times was when I was really young, and a neighbor boy tricked me into eating mushrooms out of our front lawn. I didn’t know I had done anything wrong and that night around the dinner table I declared over a slice of pizza that, “I like mushrooms now.”

My mom’s red flag went up because she immediately asked me what changed. So I told her and then I proceeded to get rushed to poison control with samples of the variety of mushrooms from our yard.

Thankfully, they weren’t poisonous and I left unscarred…physically. Now, I had a memory of a friend tricking me into eating something that could have potentially been harmful to me.

To this day, I’m still working on discovering a love for mushrooms (I’ve made progress!).

Bananas are a fruit I never liked. But about 2 years ago, I challenged myself to eat half a banana a day for a year and see how it went. Believe it or not, I actually like them now (mostly).

As our family got more comfortable in the kitchen and we slowly began to train our taste buds to enjoy certain ingredients we turned our noses up at before, it has become really important for me to help my kids figure out what they like, and to still respect ingredients they don’t prefer, respecting the effort that went in to creating the meal that’s on their plate.

I recognize that there are just some foods they are never going to like. My nine-year-old dislikes parsley and cilantro, but loves shrimp, while my oldest likes those herbs but strongly dislikes shrimp!

However…none of this stops me from using these ingredients in my meals! I consider it a challenge to help them find ways to enjoy it. Even my husband, who’s never liked Brussels sprouts or meatloaf, has finally turned the corner because I never gave up on trying new ways of cooking these foods! To be clear, I don’t go out of my way to make food with ingredients they don’t prefer, but I won’t avoid a recipe that looks amazing just because it contains one item a family member may not love. Also, don’t go out of your way to avoid “easy” kid-friendly foods. Some nights, chicken nuggets or pizza are where it’s at! Or, perhaps, a slightly elevated version of a simple favorite – zucchini pancakes, anyone?

I don’t really believe in hiding vegetables in my kids’ food, either (unless it happens to be with these healthy cookies), so I thought I would share some tips with you on how I get my kids to try new foods.

  1. Skip the manipulation/bribe tactics. As many of us have, I got the guilt trips as a kid to try new foods. Please don’t use the “if you love me, you’ll try it” card. This made me resentful and I resisted eating those foods more when that was done! This roasted zucchini and tomato pasta is a great meatless dinner option that doesn’t hide veggies. Encourage your child to try a bite or two. And if they still don’t like it, let them just eat the pasta. But don’t let that deter you from making that meal again. If at first you don’t succeed…
  2. Invite your kids to meal prep with you. I’ve actually found this to be sacred time with my little ones! They use plastic knives (if they are little) to help slice bananas for a fruit salad, or lately, my kids have been really into snapping the ends off of asparagus – fun, slightly destructive, and noisy! But, also, when I notice a behavioral issue flaring up, I like to invite them to come sit at the counter with me while I work in the kitchen. After I’ve disciplined or had one of “those” talks with my child, I’ve found that this is a great way to spend some time together and just talk to them and let the conversation flow. It allows them to see that while I am disappointed in their behavior, I’m not holding it against them and still love them and want to spend time with them.
  3. Take advantage of Farmer’s Markets. Our kids love the farmer’s market! Ours has a kids’ booth where they can earn “tokens” to buy items in the market for checking in, doing scavenger hunts, or taking part in different activities like blending flour to make pancakes or crushing apples to make juice. Let them each pick out a fruit or vegetable to incorporate in a meal or snack. Not only are they having a say in what they are eating, but it exposes them to something maybe they haven’t heard of before. Even if they choose a veggie they’ve had a lot, encourage them. We love fresh green beans and I always snatch some up when they are in season and make this Szechuan Green Beans and Pork dish. Also, everything is more appetizing and interesting when you’re buying it outdoors from the farmer who grew it!

I hope these simple ideas can encourage you to keep working with your family on finding new ways to get your kiddos to try and enjoy new foods. I think one of the keys to fostering a healthy relationship between your child and food is to keep the conversation open, ask questions, and even make it a bit of a game – help them see a new recipe as an adventure or an opportunity for discovering a new favorite! And don’t forget, this works on spouses, too! Just ask mine!

In Him,

Chels, Catz in the Kitchen

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