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How To Get Your Little Ones To Try New Foods

Toddler trying new food

By Jack Maypole, Contributing Writer and Goddard School Educational Advisory Board Member

Getting toddlers and preschoolers to try new foods, or say, eat their vegetables (gasp) is about as easy as getting a newborn to sleep on a schedule or getting a teen to do her chores without being asked a second time. Until they’re 10-12 months or so, children will usually try foods of all types and tastes and textures with gusto, having little fussiness or particularity about texture or taste. In truth, some families have toddlers who are excellent consumers of what is put before them and will hoover up whatever morsel of protein or carbohydrate put within reach. For a lot of parents, however, they find their children, around 12-15 months old, tend to become picky or even avoid healthy foods they previously ate with relish (the condiment or the enthusiasm, as it were). So how do you get your little ones to eat their fruits and veggies before they subsist wholly on the orange food group (mac ‘n’ cheese, cheese puffs, chicken nuggets, etc.)?

Children do require some number of fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, there are great articles (with tables and grids!) to help guide you on your journey. Toddlers should eat two to three servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Portion size for this age group should be about a quarter to half what the grown-ups at the table are served. Toddlers and preschoolers should be offered about a quarter to half a cup of canned or fresh fruits and the number of tablespoons of vegetables for every year of their age.

Correspondingly, children should be served protein two to three times a day and carbohydrates (think snacks!) up to six times a day.

How do you get children to eat broadly, though? In my practice, I counsel parents expressing concerns about picky eaters in their family to offer one new food with two well-established foods to their child’s regimen. For example, if you know your daughter likes pasta and chicken, serve those as usual and add a portion of a new vegetable to her plate. We established early in our house that you at least have to try it, one bite or taste. Research shows that most children will take to a food after up to about a dozen tastings (for some super picky or rigid eaters, such as those on the autism spectrum for example, it may be many, many more times). Set kids up for success by discouraging snacking or tanking up on beverages before mealtime, and try not to feed them when they are too tired or too hungry. Also, keep mealtimes positive by involving kids in food prep and getting enthusiastic in the craft and presentation of food. This may cultivate interest and curiosity which can lead to the development of a more adventurous palate.

Never force feed or go to war about making your child eat. Everyone loses. Don’t hesitate to contact your child’s primary care provider if you have concerns that he or she has issues around eating. It happens. It can be a quirk particular to your child, a temporary age and stage issue that will be outgrown, or it can be a marker (rarely) of a child with extra sensitivity to food tastes or textures, or food allergies. If you aren’t sure, ask. Best to be reassured and unstressed. Food is an everyday thing best enjoyed and not worried over!