March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Getting kids to eat new foods sounds simple enough ("Just take one bite"). But parents and caretakers know that for many children, new foods — with their new appearances, smells, tastes, textures, temperatures and names — can be scary.
How can you develop positive relationships with food instead of mealtime battles? Try these eight fun tips to lay a foundation for stress-free, adventurous eating habits before the first bite.
Learn about foods and recipes from around the world, including what children in different cultures eat. Read about food-based professions such as bakers, farmers and chefs. Watch cooking shows and videos with your kids about cooking and food prep.
Smell is a significant and sometimes forgotten part of the eating experience. Playing games to positively engage with food smells outside of mealtimes can demystify the experience. Use spice jars to guess scents. Or add vanilla extract to bubbles before blowing them outside. These non-eating activities will build happy associations with new smells before you use them in recipes.
Unleash the Artist
Make art projects using food. Use fruit to make stamps: halved strawberries make heart-shaped stamps, and halved apples are star-shaped. Use a string to make garlands or jewelry from uncooked pasta, popcorn or cranberries. (Popcorn and chunks of food can be choking hazards in young children.)
Flip the Script
Do you find yourself telling friends and family, "My child is a picky eater"? Train yourself to use hopeful language instead: "My child is learning to love new things." Instead of "He doesn't like it," say, "He hasn't had it enough times." Using positive statements will validate your child's feelings in your mind while recognizing that opinions can change.
Sort by Color
Chop brightly colored fruits and vegetables such as red cherry tomatoes, green kiwis and purple grapes into small pieces. Practice sorting them by color while saying the color aloud. This can cultivate an acceptance of new textures by allowing your child to focus on the game rather than on his or her discomfort with new foods. As with popcorn and apples, be aware that whole cherry tomatoes and grapes are considered choking hazards in young children.
Which do you think your child would rather eat: steamed carrots or X-Ray Vision Coins? In the same way that descriptions on restaurant menus can influence what you order, creative names in the kitchen or cafeteria can pique a child's interest.
Shine the Spotlight
Many kids love being the star, so use that instinct to explore new foods. Take videos of your child speaking to his or her ideal audience — a younger sibling, a stuffed animal, a favorite superhero — about trying new foods.