Neil Welsh's 10 Ways To Introduce New Food To Kids

how to introduce new food to kids
Eating healthily is a hard enough task on its own. It is made much harder when we have to take into account the eating preferences of a whole family, especially if the kids at the table are less than adventurous! We’ve all been there, thumbed through a cook book full of tantalising recipes… ruling out one after another as the kids will more than likely turn their noses up at it.

The good news is that it does not have to be that way. All over the world, families sit down to meals together, enjoy the same food in a relaxed environment without even having to threaten the kids with no pudding if they don’t eat their fish fingers!

Here are 10 ways that we can all help our kids try new things at meal times and make our dinner tables more varied and more relaxed…. starting right now.

Don’t stress

For most of us this is harder than it sounds but we have to accept that a majority of kids will go through some form of neophobia (fear of trying new food). Paediatric nutritionists suggest that kids should be fed three meals per day, separated by two snacks, not within one hour of a meal. By doing this, we can relax as parents if a child does not eat all of their meal, or any of their meal. If kids eat most of their three meals and two snacks per day they will be meeting their nutritional needs. A parents role should be to offer food, a child’s role is to decide what and how much to eat.

Serve appropriate food 

Portions should be child size, with seconds available if required. By giving small portions the dinner plate will be less daunting that a huge plate of food. Kids are just like adults with their appetite, big portions can be daunting for us and they are for them too. The food must look good to. We all eat with our eyes, if it does not look good, it will be an uphill struggle from the start. I once tried to feed our kids a mushroom risotto. They will tolerate mushrooms but this dish was quite grey… almost gruel looking. It was a non-starter even before bums hit seats! Oh, and go easy on the garnish… we love it in a restaurant by we are creating unnecessary battles by sprinkling parsley on our kids food! Lest we forget…. The food should be good to eat too, that includes taste and texture…. A grizzly piece of meat can have a long term impact on a kids opinion on a type of food…. Oh, and don’t be afraid to season food!

Watch what you say! 

As a basic rule, when at the dinner table never say anything to our kids that our parents said to us. “You can’t have any dessert until you eat your veg”, “You are not getting down until your plate is empty”, “Stay there until you finish!”, “Think of all the starving children”…. any of these will have a child psychologist breaking into a nervous sweat! The favourite is “You can’t have any dessert until you eat your veg”, what message does that send to our kids? Whatever is on the plate must be really bad if there is a reward for eating it!? And a dessert is the prize… something to be valued? Experts suggest that kids should be left to it. No running commentary, no pressure and also we need to go easy on the praise which should be reserved for doing something that was a challenge and required effort… it can sound a bit empty and patronising at the dinner table! 

Don’t tell them they are a fussy eater

Also, don’t tell them whether they will or won’t like something. If we label our kids and they hear us referring to them as fussy eaters then the chances are that they will act that way, it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Also, telling them what they do and don’t like can lead to kids having two lists in their head; one of foods they like and one of foods they don’t like, it then becomes very hard to get them to shift foods they don’t like on to the do like list. We all know that kids are fickle and can like things one day and hate them the next, that’s is ok, it is all part of growing up and we shouldn’t fight it! 

Exposure is key

Keep offering new foods, even if they are not eaten. Experts suggest that it may take up to 20 exposures of a new food for kids to accept it. Go slowly with it, there is no need to rush, we literally have years to help our kids build positive relationships with food. A great technique is to add new foods to proven favourites. Our kids love macaroni cheese, so we always add veg to it. We make sure that they can eat around it if they want to but more often than not they end up trying some of it. 

Use the mantra; “You don’t have to eat it but you do have to try it”. 

This can be tricky as it does require a bit of persuasion, which can be met with wilful resistance so it is important to pick your battles. Most parents will have experiences the joy of that “I told you so” moment when a child refuses food but then decides they like it when they try it. “Trying” can be as simple as putting in their mouth and then spitting it out again. Remember, there is a BIG difference to a kid between putting in their mouth and actually chewing and swallowing. 

Consistency is also key

Everybody needs to be on board and it must be an ongoing project. It is no good if one parent is allowing the kids responsibility for their eating whilst another is trying to force peas down their throats… and it is much less stressful for us if we are on the same team! 

No distractions

 Meal times should be a pleasure shared by the family. In today’s society, it is not always easy to eat together but we should take the opportunity whenever we can, it can be lunch instead of dinner and it doesn’t have to be every day… but each time counts and has a positive impact. Even more difficult in today’s society is tearing ourselves away from the screens, this goes for parents and kids. Experts suggest that we should concentrate on each other, not screens, and everyone stays until everyone is finished. 

Kids should be involved in the whole food process

From shopping (or growing!), to preparation and cooking to washing up too! Yes, it will often be additional work for us and you may well end up with snot in gravy and a wooden spoon in the eye (personal experience) but it teaches kids all sorts of life skills. The benefits can include developing fine motor skills, understanding food and its components, achieving a sense of accomplishment but it is also quality, fun time too. 

Lead by example 

Kids as young as two years old are willing to try something new if they see an adult trying it too. Everyone eating the same is a great way to build positive relationships with food. Parents can still modify their diets if they want too, feel free to have a smaller portion of rice or swerve it all together if you want to dodge the carbs in a meal but eating the same saves time and money. No short order cooking and no substitutes. Meal times are great opportunities for modelling behaviour for our kids, but bear in mind, they will model good and bad! 

In conclusion, meal times should relaxed affairs where kids try new things and develop positive relationships with both their food and their families. Hopefully these steps will help us all to never have to utter “You can’t have any dessert until you eat your veg” ever again!

About the Author

Neil Welsh is obsessed with building positive relationships with families and the food they eat.

His blog,, aims to proven strategies to unlock to secrets of getting kids to enjoy eating, try new things at the dinner table and build a positive relationship with food in a stress free environment.

It’s for parents who want to cook great food for their families that everyone will enjoy.

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