Why You Should Stop Trying to Get Your Kids to Eat New Foods

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Child feeding expert and parent educator Dina Rose, PhD, has a message for moms and dads trying to get their picky kids to eat new foods: stop.

We’re having the wrong conversation about feeding our children, she says, and we should be taking a different approach. Instead of pressuring and prodding – “just one bite!” – parents should shift their focus from getting kids to eat unfamiliar food to simply exploring it. This leads to a pressure-free discovery of new foods.

Sound counter-intuitive? Dr. Rose explains that while some children will naturally go through a process of looking, to tasting to eating something different, the vast majority who resist new foods need a slower approach.

"How many times have you seen a child put food in their mouth while simultaneously saying, ‘I don’t like it.’ And they haven’t even tasted it. But already they have decided they are not eating anything new and there is nothing you can do about it,” says Rose. “They’re coming to the table defensive, because they’re making the assumption if they do taste it, and they do like it, they will have to finish it.”

Eating food requires commitment, she says, but exploring it requires just some curiosity.

Rose recently launched a kit full of tools that encourage children to discover foods in ways other than actually putting it in their mouth. Kids can take a pea-sized amount of food and examine it science-experiment-style: what color is it, how does it smell, is it squishy, crunchy? This makes new foods fun for kids, and for parents, removes some of the frustration.

Research shows that sensory-based food education increases children’s willingness to eat healthier foods. A study recently published in Public Health Nutrition, found that 3–5 year-old children were more amenable to eating vegetables, berries and fruit when they were exposed to food in a way that relies on all five senses.

“For kids, it takes away the food shyness because it’s not a direct moment. It’s more, ‘I poke and prod this avocado today, and maybe tomorrow I will taste it.’ It doesn’t have to be a big deal. It’s about developing a general set of skills; the more foods you now about the more likely you are to eat those foods,” says Rose.

The Super Food Explorer Kit encourages children to experiment with different foods and develop a “database” of food information they can use to figure out what a food will be like before they taste it. The kit includes 60 discovery activities and all the tools children need to inspect, examine, probe, rattle, sniff, slurp and, ultimately eat new foods. This kit contains everything a young investigator needs to discover new foods in a fun and playful way.

“We keep talking about nutrition and tricking kids into eating when what we should be talking about is habits,” says Rose. “However, when we shift the focus to habits, children begin to eat nutritious foods. Just like children need to be taught how to walk, read or dress themselves, healthy eating habits must be taught. Once you do, children will benefit from a lifetime of happy and healthy eating.”