Get your children trying new foods with our tips, a little patience and perseverance
If you’ve got a young fussy eater in your house, mealtimes can be stressful. But did you know? Fear of new foods is thought to be a natural thing. It affects up to one in every five children, typically when they’re between 18 months and two years old.
Don't worry about what your child eats in one day, or if they don't eat everything in a single meal. It's more important to think about what they eat over a week.
A good diet for your child means:
- lots of different fruits and vegetables
- a variety of starchy foods
- a range of meat, fish, eggs, beans and alternatives
- milk and dairy foods.
- Try and try again. It can take up to fifteen tries of a new food for children accept it, and their tastes change regularly. Every now and then, try them again with a food they’ve rejected in the past
- Don’t use favourite foods as a reward if your child tries something new – you’re only making them prize those foods even more. Food should never be used as a punishment either - use stickers or non-food rewards instead
- Start small. Give them a tiny taste of a new food first – they can always have more
- Give them control – they should have the chance to spit the new food into a tissue if they really don’t like it
- Praise them for trying new things
- Take them shopping. When you’ve got time, explore the fruit and veg aisle with them and get them choosing a new fruit or veg they haven’t tried before
- Get growing. Children love to eat what they’ve grown – and you don’t need a garden. A pot of herbs like basil will grow on a window sill
- Get cooking. Children are far more likely to try a new food if they helped to make it.
- Serve children what you’re eating – they’re more likely to try things that the whole family’s tucking into
- Try not to have unhealthy snacks in the house – stick to things like fruit, veg sticks, low sugar cereal, yoghurt, malt loaf or fruit teacakes.
Eating with their eyes: presenting food for fussy eaters
- Let kids serve themselves. Put the different parts of the meal in different bowls and let them fill their own plates. Encourage them if you need to
- Be creative – use foods of different shapes and colours in your cooking.
- Give children small servings at first. They can always have seconds but can feel put off by big portions
- Bring the food to life. A simple noodle soup? ‘Wiggly Worm Soup’ sounds so much more fun….
- Individual-sized portions in smaller dishes can make children feel like the food was made especially for them – and this can make them more likely to eat it.
Creating a good mealtime
- Mealtimes are about so much more than food. Try to sit down together to eat whenever you can, turn off the TV and use the time to chat – research shows this also helps build children’s confidence
- Keep calm. As frustrating as it is, don’t get cross or force children to eat. Take their plate away without comment if they haven’t eaten what’s on it
- Try and stick to set mealtimes, to help make sure they’re not too tired or hungry to eat
- Use positive peer pressure – invite other children who are good eaters to join you for a meal; it can work wonders!
Helping children learn what different foods feel, smell, look and taste like is one of the best ways to combat fussy eating. But if there are still some fruits and vegetables that your kids just won’t entertain, you might need to get a bit sneaky as a last resort. Ultimately, it’s about helping them eat a good diet and to reach their 5-A-Day.
Here are our top tips on getting fruit and veg in unnoticed:
- Add cooked and mashed carrots, butternut squash, sweet potato or swede to normal mashed potato
- Throw carrots, peppers and onions into bolognaise sauce
- Try our secret ingredient for chocolate cake – beetroot keeps it beautifully moist.
- Make a fruit smoothie. Because smoothies are made using the whole fruit they contain fibre, unlike fruit juice. They can also be a good source of dairy if you add yoghurt or milk
- Put fruit in puddings
- Chop ripe banana into bite-sized pieces and freeze them. Frozen banana chunks look and taste great and make a healthy alternative to ice-cream or lollies.
Let’s Get Cooking at Home is part of Let’s Get Cooking, the national programme aiming to get everyone eating more healthily through basic cooking skills.
Let’s Get Cooking has created the country’s largest network of cooking clubs for children and adults, and research shows more than half of those taking part eat a healthier diet as a result. Let’s Get Cooking is run by the Children’s Food Trust, the national charity which protects every child’s right to eat better and, so, to do better.