There are lots of numbers floating around out there–it takes 15 tastes of a new food for a child to eat it, 30 tastes, 50, you get the idea. All of those numbers are right and wrong. So many factors are part of the decision to take a bite of a new food and each child is different and reacts to every new food differently. So, while the number of tastes it takes for a child to try a new food varies, one rule stays the same: new foods must be presented over and over and over until you hit that magic number.
We become more comfortable with new foods over the course of experiencing them multiple times. When we touch a food over and over, we become habituated to it. We don’t notice the strong smell, or how it feels in our hands because we’re used to it and our body understands it doesn’t pose a threat.
Here are 3 ways to give your children opportunities with new foods again and again and again:
1. Food Preparation with the same food over and over and over.
Pick one or just a few foods to work on at a time so your child can have lots of opportunities with these foods. Encourage your child to touch these foods while gardening, buying or preparing foods. Have them hold these foods and put them into the cart at the grocery store. Or have them hold one of the foods you picked, like an apple while you’re doing your shopping.
Kids can’t do all of the steps in most recipes, but they can practice skills of pouring, dumping and a pincer grasp by putting ingredients into bowls or pots. Helping in the kitchen gives kids more opportunities to touch and learn about foods and it makes them feel more comfortable with and invested in the final cooked product.
2. Use the same food in multiple food-play activities.
Do a deconstruct activity and take a food apart to learn about it. Then do a building activity and use pieces of that food to make something. Then play a game with the pieces. By experiencing the food so many times and in so many ways kids become habituated to new foods. The new foods become not new anymore.
Kids may choose to try a bite of a new food during a play activity, which is great! You can definitely take a bite and show them that the food is for eating and that it’s safe and delicious, but don’t put any pressure on kids to eat during a food play experience. The absence of pressure to eat is one of the magical things about food play that lets kids make progress towards eating at their own pace and at their own comfort level.
3. Introduce the same food in multiple dishes at multiple meals.
When you think you’re ready to introduce a new food at a meal (there are no longer tantrums at just having the food sit on a plate in front of your child), it may still be a while before they are ready to eat it. When kids see the same food on the table over and over they get more and more used to it, but they also learn that it’s not going away just because they’re not eating it.
So make roasted carrots, mashed carrots and sweet potatoes, carrot spice muffins, chicken noodle soup with carrots in it. You get the idea. If you’re eating even somewhat seasonally (which makes the most sense for your pocket-book and the environment) this happens naturally.
There comes the point in the winter when citrus and greens are what is in season, the point in spring when carrots become overly abundant and the time in summer when you cannot figure out how to use or give away the bumper crop of zucchini drowning your kitchen.
With spring right around the corner, enjoy each ingredient as it takes its season and see how many ways you can show it off for your picky eaters!
Happy food play!