Between the ages of 6 months and 3 years parents navigate what may feel like an endless obstacle course to promote healthy eating habits and mealtime routines. We all know the benefits to eating those colorful “superfoods” packed with all the minerals and nutrients to fuel our bodies and brains. Here are some fun ways to introduce these foods at home in a meaningful way.
Adjust Your Expectations
When introducing anything new to a child, the response is probably going to involve hesitation or even some resistance. Jumping right to eating a new (and perhaps strange looking) food might throw some kiddos for a loop. Start by talking about, showing pictures of, or finding these foods in the grocery store. This may be the stage at which a child is comfortable for a few weeks and that’s okay. Stay positive and keep introducing that new food multiple times.
Become a Sous Chef
Children as young as 18 months can assist a caregiver with meal prep in the kitchen. Talk about the new food as part of the ingredients and encourage your child to touch and taste as you go about the process.
• Washing: Let your child wash fruits and vegetables at the sink.
• Tearing: This is a great activity to introduce leafy greens, especially rainbow chard or purple kale.
• Pouring: Practice pouring different legumes (red beans, black beans) into cups for cooking.
• Stirring: Find a child-sized spoon or whisk. Use a small bowl with a little bit of the mixture at first and increase as children become expert mixers.
Start a Tasting Time
Set aside regular time for a child to taste new foods. Use this in place of an activity after school or between meals so the pressure to eat a full plate is removed and the child can have fun exploring the food using all of his/her senses. Tasting different foods is an important skill to building an adventurous eater. Replace “we eat everything on our plate” with, “we taste everything on our plate” to encourage children to interact with a new food each time it is presented.
• Ask follow up questions: How did that food taste in your mouth? Does it feel crunchy or soft?
• Ask with a smile: Children are more apt to try a new food when a smiling caregiver is presenting it.
• Give it a score: Encourage your child to rate the food they tried. Use visuals, descriptors or numbers (“super yuck” = 0 or “super yummy” = 5).
• Invite the neighbors: Children may be more likely to try foods in a group setting.
Use a Food Ladder
Think of the journey to eating as climbing a ladder with looking at a new food at the bottom and eating a new food at the top. Each rung represents a different way a child might navigate a new food:
• Interact: Will mix foods in a bowl, poke foods on his/her plate
• Smell: Leans in to smell a new food
• Touch: With fingers, on face, on lips, on teeth, on tongue
• Taste: Licks with tongue, bites off small piece and washes down with water, bites off piece and chews with teeth before swallowing
• Eats: Bites, chews and swallows without any help!
Change Up the Color
Familiar foods such as carrots, bell peppers, tomatoes and cauliflower are a few vegetables that come in unique colors. Mix a few pieces of the “new” color into a bowl of the “usual” color with meals. Replace a few leaves of iceberg lettuce with lacinto kale; a few green grapes with red grapes; a few slices of cantaloupe with honey dew melon.
Remember, eating and mealtime should be a time for families to interact and share food with little stress. If your child experiences difficulty during mealtimes or trying new foods, speak with his/her pediatrician about your concerns.
Angela O’Hara, MS, CCC-SLP is a speech/language pathologist with Emerson Hospital’s Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies. She established the Pediatric Feeding Therapy program at Emerson and works with children experiencing a range of difficulties around feeding and mealtimes. Her clinical Interests include speech/language disorders in the birth-to-3, preschool, and school-age populations, as well as pediatric feeding and swallowing.