As good as new: encouraging children to try new food in childcare

Introducing children to new food can be a recipe for disaster – but you can smooth the path to success. Do it right and you may just be setting the stage for a healthier generation. Any food can become as good as new!


Children’s habits and preferences are not set in stone. They are always learning – and it is normal (and common) for them to be skeptical or fussy about the taste, shape, colour or texture of particular foods.


In fact, food rejection is common with 20 to 30% of children having challenging eating habits.


The good news? They’re likely to become less fussy as they get older. If children are consistently offered a wide variety of foods, they’re likely to grow up to eat and enjoy a variety of foods.


And persistence is key. It can take 10-15 tries (or even more) for children to become familiar with, accept and enjoy new foods.


Spark curiosity

Start by building an interest and curiosity about food. You can encourage children to become familiar with new foods in so many ways.

  • Talk about what’s on the menu and where different ingredients originate from.
  • Play games and do activities related to food: the Healthy Eating Advisory Service has some great ideas.
  • Creating a children’s garden space where they plant, grow and harvest different foods – like herbs.
  • Read books about different foods from around the world.



Routine is key

It is best to offer meals and snacks at regular and predictable intervals – and for consistent durations. This will keep up their energy lessons and provide the routines that children love. It’s helpful for them to know when they can expect their next meal or snack and can help create calm and reduce anxiety.


Allow children to pack up the activity they are doing before washing their hands and coming to the table. This way, they are less likely to be distracted and more interested in the food you have prepared.


Engage the senses

Children learn by exploring. According to the Healthy Eating Advisory Service, you can expose children to new foods by engaging all of their senses, such as putting the food to their lips but not tasting it, or looking at it and discussing it.


  • Sight: What does it look like? How big is it? What shape and colour is it?
  • Smell: What does the food smell like? Is it sweet or fruity?
  • Touch: What does the food feel like? Is it smooth, rough, spiky, or fuzzy?
  • Taste: What does it taste like? Is it sweet or sour?
  • Sound: What sound does it make when you take a bite? Is it crunchy?


Take the pressure down – and keep it positive

It is important to create positive mealtimes that are social, relaxed and calm. That includes never using food as a punishment or reward, and not labelling foods as good or bad.


As we have written before: by placing a moral value – good or bad, right or wrong – to different types of food can make children feel anxious about the foods they enjoy and perhaps result in unwanted behaviour such as sneaking food or hiding to eat foods they enjoy, which can see feelings such as shame and guilt become associated with eating.


When presenting the opportunity to trial new foods, provide encouragement, but don’t force anything. For example: “Mmm I really liked that, do you want a little taste?” is a much less threatening way to introduce food to a child than “”You cannot leave the table without trying it first”.


Never say things like: “You must eat all your vegetables” or “You must finish everything on your plate”.


Don’t put too many new things on a plate at once, as that it can become easily overwhelming.


A great tip is to always keep something familiar on the plate.  Whenever offering a new food always pair it with at least one thing you know they like. This can help them with the fear of the unknown and encourage them to try something new.


Finally, sitting with and engaging children in conversations during mealtimes helps create a relaxed and enjoyable mealtime atmosphere.


Be a role model

Remember that adults can role model healthy eating every day. By eating fruits, vegetables and other healthy food, you are sending a message.


Show how much you are enjoying your food. Talk about the colours and textures. Talk about the benefits of what you eat, like giving you the energy to play with them. Serve and eat appropriate portions. Try to keep a positive approach whenever you eat or talk about food.


Let them decide

Give children a sense of autonomy around mealtimes.  Allow them to choose what, and how much, they eat – and respect their decisions. Put simply: adults provide, children decide.


If a child is repeatedly pressured to eat or try things, they can be worried before they even sit down. That worry can intensify sensory sensitivity, making it harder to tolerate and explore the smells, textures, look and taste of their food.


It’s also about letting them self-regulate their own hunger and fullness cues, which can change from day to day.


Here are some other ways to build autonomy.

  • Give children choices: would you like broccoli or carrots, an apple or an orange?
  • Let them serve themselves some, or all, of their food.
  • Allow them to do other things for themselves at mealtimes, like clearing or cleaning up and getting their own cutlery.


How we can help

The Wellbeing Food Co specialise in helping childcare centres, children and families to thrive – no matter what their dietary or cultural food requirements. We balance optimal childhood nutrition with maximum ‘kid-approved’ appeal. We have a network of test centres: where little ‘taste testers’ give us the type of honest feedback that only children can! Menus are finalised when they get the tick of approval from real children in real childcare settings. Our portion sizes are carefully matched to age and national guidelines and we pair variety in tastes and textures with trusted staples – so we don’t overwhelm children with too much that’s ‘new’ in a short period of time.


Want help in tackling fussiness, encouraging exploration, and building great food habits? We’d love to help. Call or email us today. Contact us here.


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