Variety, as the saying goes, is the spice of life. When it comes to nutrition, eating a wide range of foods is the best way to ensure that the body gets the nutrients it needs for optimal growth and function. This applies throughout a person’s life and is, of course, extremely important for children as their body is undergoing so many developmental changes.
However, many children are somewhat reticent to embrace new taste experiences. While it might not be fair to call them fussy eaters at such a young age, it’s an issue that many parents face. Some of the most common foodstuffs that your child might turn their nose up at are the very ones you want to encourage, such as vegetables and meat. Rest assured, you’re not alone – the struggle is real!
Thankfully, there are many ways that you can smooth the path to introducing new foods. The following 6-step approach is doctor-developed and encompasses not only the actual eating but of every other sense and the way that a person interacts with their food.
The 6 step approach
No matter whether a child tucks into whatever you put in front of them, or they’re somewhat more selective in their likes and dislikes. This means caregivers must do everything they can to make mealtimes a pleasant experience.
You might’ve attempted to introduce new foods in the past with little success or you might just be at the beginning of the journey. Either scenario means there’s a possibility that it might be a stressful experience. By following a measured, stepwise approach, even the most sensitive of children can gradually become accustomed to new foods and begin to associate eating them to be a positive experience.
Step #1: Seeing the food: Letting a child become accustomed to seeing new foods is the first step in this gradual process. For instance, they see you put the food in the shopping trolley, watch you prepare it or have it on the table while they eat something else. It’s also good practice for you to eat the new food while they’re consuming their usual offerings – this is another way that a new food becomes commonplace to them.
Step #2: Interacting with the food: Encouraging the child to interact with the food without actually touching it can be done in many ways:
- Stirring it during preparation
- Let your child help you pack away any leftovers
- Allow them to help you pass a plate to others sat at the dinner table
Step #3: Smelling the food: This is especially relevant to foods that have a strong smell, such as certain fruits or cheeses. Rather than simply placing it in front of them, which might be overwhelming, it should first simply be introduced to the same environment or room. The next step would be to have it on the table and, last of all, directly in front of them. Depending on your child’s sensitivity to the smell, this can be a quick process or take a little longer. Eventually, he or she is likely to lean closer to the food to smell it of their own accord.
Step #4: Touching the food: Once they’re happy around the food, then it’s time to touch it. This doesn’t necessarily need to be at the dinner table. Instead, let them help you put the shopping away or help you to wash and prepare it.
Step #5: Tasting the food: This can be as simple as a lick or touching the food to their lips. In some cases, they might take a small bite and spit it straight out. All of these are a great step forward and a completely normal approach to eating. The key is that the child feels happy that they can do this and eject it from their mouth with no pressure to do anything more. Gradually this stage will extend to chew or two before spitting out before they move onto step 6 of their own accord…
Step #6: Eating the food: The final step might involve the child chewing and swallowing independently, or perhaps a partial swallow or swallowing with a drink.
There is no set speed at which a child should work through the 6 steps – everyone progresses at their own pace. For some, the introduction of a new food might mean they whizz through the stages and go from seeing the food to eating and swallowing in just a few minutes. For others – and especially if they’re highly sensitive or have developed a picky relationship with food – then getting from tolerating the sight of food through to eating it might take days, weeks or longer.
As adults, we must remember that learning to enjoy new foods involves a wide range of sensory experiences. Keeping this in mind and introducing new foods slowly is key to helping your child increase their nutritional repertoire.
Danielle Innes has over 21 years of experience in Early Childhood Education and Care in South Australia. She has held managerial and leadership positions in the private and community sectors and also worked with children with additional rights as Education Supervisor of SA’s first Autism Specific Early Learning Centre.
Whilst Danielle enjoyed her recent position with the State Regulatory Authority, she felt a strong calling to return to childhood education and joined Think Childcare Services in August 2019. As People and Quality Leader, she is passionate about high-quality practices, routines, curriculums and like-minded educators and the difference they make to the lifelong outcomes of early learners and their families.
Danielle is also a wife and mum of three, and balances work with a busy and active family life which includes sports, time outdoors and camping.