Expanding Your Child’s Food Palette
Kim Kanzler, M.A., CCC-SLP
Director of Pediatric Therapy
Here is a hidden parenting fact: Getting children to try a new food can be very hard! You are not alone if you have weekly struggles in getting your child to try a new food. I am a feeding therapist and my children still groan when I announce that I am going to try something new. I often tell a story of one of my new recipe, baked ziti! When I told my kids, their first reaction was worry, “what is it, I don’t like it”, it starts with “Z,” no good foods start with “Z” and so on. My knee jerk thought was, “Are you kidding me? I made dinner!” But, I stopped and realized I broke my own rules as a feeding therapist. We know children thrive on predictability, consistency, routines, and my children could not link this new food to anything else in their food repertoire. Children can learn to be very interested in new foods if we remember some simple tips.
First, Feeding is a whole body experience. Researchers say there are over 25 steps to eating, ranging from tolerating the food in the room, to on their plate, touching it, and finally chewing and swallowing it. Many children can’t or won’t go to the final step of eating on the first attempt. I let parents know this is a journey and they should present new foods many, many times, and in different ways before they can truly say that it is not their preferred food. Here are a few suggestions when introducing a new food:
1. Take a preferred food and change it in a small way. This could be changing spaghetti noodles to rotini noodles or lasagna to baked ziti. This helps a child tolerate changes in how a food looks and increases their willingness to try new foods.
2. Only offer one new food at a time. If the main dish is new, pair it with two of the child’s favorite side dishes. If your child has a hard time trying new foods and you present them with a plate of all new foods, this can be very overwhelming and we will often see children shut down versus trying the new food.
3. Offer only a small portion of the new food, for example three small bites of chicken breast versus a big chunk. Again, this reduces the pressure to eat it and moves towards trying it.
So back to my dinner story. Ziti is a crazy word, and my kids could not link it to anything they have ever had. So I told them it’s like lasagna except with macaroni like noodles; this described the meal but linked it to a food that they eat, but with the slight difference. I then placed a small serving on the plate with two of their favorites: garlic bread and fruit. I had one who loved it, and the other thought it was okay, but they both tried it.
Recommended resources for families
• Food Chaining, By Cheri Fraker
• How to Get Your Kid to Eat… But Not Too Much, By Ellyn Satter