Updated: Sep 15, 2020
Every parent dreads dinner time battles of trying to get their kids to eat what is made for the family. It sometimes feels easier to turn into a short-order cook, making a different meal or variation for each person, rather than facing the inevitable grumbles that seem to accompany each meal. There are some simple and easy ways to develop an adventurous food spirit in your children.
Involve them in preparing the meal! Even the youngest kids can help in the kitchen by breaking off the ends of green beans or helping to measure and stir ingredients. By having a vested interest in the process, they will be more likely to try their creations when it is time to eat.
Control the Seasoning
When introducing a new spice or flavor profile to your kids, try to allow for adjustable seasoning when possible. For example, the first time you prepare curry, use just a dash of seasoning and offer more table-side for those who are ready to up the flavor. Over time, you will be able to increase to "full strength" as their palettes develop.
Kids love theme nights and will often try new foods when presented as part of an adventure. Themes can be created around a country or culture (easy to do with our Travel Dinner Boxes!) or any of the following ideas: Color nights - a dinner based entirely on red foods - include some familiar items such as grapes, tomato sauce, and apples but also introduce others they may not have tried such as gazpacho, cranberries or beets. Lesser known historical events such as the Great Molasses Spill on January 15, 1919, can provide an opportunity to try Baked Beans, Southern BBQ and, Shoefly Pie.
Make it a Contest
Embrace their competitive spirit and create a food challenge! If there are specific foods you want your kids to try, create custom bingo cards https://bingobaker.com and when they hit bingo, let them have a favorite dessert. Have your kids try one new food for each letter of the alphabet, or to make it simpler, their names.
For older kids, a scratch-off poster such as The Greatest 100 Foods of the World
can provide a great incentive to try new foods. It can be done as a family or individual challenge paired with a prize of dinner at a favorite restaurant once completed.
If you have multiple children, structure your challenge so there is not just one winner, but rather each one can earn the prize once their challenge is completed.
Respect, but do not cater to, their preferences.
My husband, a professional chef, will eat, and enjoy, just about any food he can find - often the more exotic, the better. Rattlesnake, sweetbreads, eel - none of them bother him. When we head to a new restaurant he will often look for the most unusual ingredient on the menu, just to try it. However, do not ask him to eat anything with dill. Now, there is nothing wrong with dill and many people love it, but he just does not enjoy the taste, which he claims stays with him for a full 24 hours after eating. Respect that for your kids, there may be some foods that invoke the same reaction and that we all have some foods we just do not enjoy!
One Bite Rule
Institute a “one bite rule” or “no, thank you” portion. When introducing new foods, aim to include some familiar favorites at the same time. If they only eat one bite of the new food, there will still be enough other items to fill them up and keep you from having to prepare a separate meal. Others can be turned off to certain foods by texture. If you find that your child doesn't want to eat green beans, try offering them raw while you prepare the meal. The crunch may be more palatable to kids and over time you can begin to serve them quickly blanched.
Like anything, not every attempt at introducing new foods will be successful. It often takes several introductions to a food before kids will actually start to enjoy something new, but it is well worth the time and effort investment to be able to retire your short-order cook apron!