Picky eating often occurs at ages 3 to 5. At this age, children like to explore food rather than eat to it. Usually it is a phase that children go through and then grow out of over time. Children often refuse foods because of color or texture. Teaching them to explore foods and describe the flavors, smells and textures instead of just using words like; “like or dislike” can help improve their willingness to try new things over time.
Children don’t always take to new foods easily or right away. Here are some tips that can help a child learn to like new foods.
- Offer new foods many times displayed or prepared differently. It may take up to a dozen tries for a child to accept a new food.
- Small portions = big benefits. Let children try small portions of new foods that you enjoy. Give them a small taste at first and be patient.
- Be a good role model by trying new foods yourself. Describe tastes, textures and smells.
- Offer only one new food at a time. Serve something that you know the child likes along with the new food. Offering too many new foods all at once can be overwhelming.
- Offer new foods first, at the beginning of a meal, when everyone is the hungriest.
- Serve food plain if that is important to the child. For example, instead of a macaroni casserole, try meatballs, pasta and a vegetable. Also, to keep different foods separated, try plates with sections. For some children the opposite works and serving a new food mixed in with a familiar item is helpful. Get to know the child’s preferences.
- Before this session, buy a variety of fruits and vegetables, including some you think young people may have never tried before. Clean and prepare them and bring them with you to the session. Have enough so that each young person can try at least two things.
- Before bringing out the food ask young people to tell you their favorite foods.
- On a white board or flip chart make a list that includes at least one thing that everyone says they like, leaving space under each one for an additional list of words
- Then, one item at a time, ask young people to describe those foods. Encourage them to use words that describe flavor (sweet, spicy, bitter, salty, sour, tangy) and feel or texture (soft, hard, chewy, watery, dry). Write down what they say under each food item.
- Bring out the fruits and vegetables you’ve prepared. Encourage each young person to choose two items they’ve never had before (more if you have enough). Ask them to wait before tasting until everyone has theirs.
- Encourage youth to try one of their foods. After a few minutes, invite them to describe to you and to the rest of the group the flavor and the texture instead of if they liked it or not.
- Make a new list of words or add to your first list. It doesn’t matter if they describe different foods at different times. The idea isn’t to develop one list to describe each food. It is to help youth think of and learn many different ways to describe foods other than just whether they like something or not. This may help them learn to appreciate and even enjoy a variety of flavors and textures.
Hand out the Healthy Families Newsletter in English or Spanish and encourage young people to surprise their families at the next meal they share by using one or more of the words you talked about and learned today to describe taste, texture or smell.
Additional Instructor Resources
Phrases that HELP and HINDER