Introducing new food without bribing, forcing, or rewarding

Introducing New Food

by | Sep 1, 2021

Are you bribing, rewarding or forcing your child to eat or try new foods? Do you make comments such as, “If you eat your chicken, you can have some dessert.” or “If you don’t eat your carrots, there is no iPad after dinner?” or “Just have three more bites and then you can go.”

Did you know, research shows that children who are forced, bribed, and rewarded for eating and trying new foods are pickier eaters than those whose parents do not use these strategies.

“But, if I don’t make him, how will he ever eat vegetables, meat, pasta?” I get asked this often by parents struggling with fussy eating and children reluctant to try anything new. These parents describe dinner time as stressful and frustrating with arguments and often tears. When I ask parents what their goals are for their child’s feeding, increased vegetable eating and less stress at mealtimes are in my top five.

So how can you introduce new foods into your child’s diet without forcing, bribing, and rewarding for tastes.

  1. Start with foods similar to those they already eat.

It is often a child’s senses that tell them if they like a food or not. They say, “I don’t like it.” “That’s disgusting.”, without even trying a new food. This is because their eyes and nose, and if they get as far, their mouth, tell them that this new food looks, smells and tastes different to their preferred food and that different is BAD!!

Instead of focusing on vegetable or meat or a food that is super challenging for your child, start with foods that are easier on their senses. Try foods that look, smell, and taste similar to preferred foods. This might be a new shape of pasta or a different brand of crumbed chicken or a different flavour of yoghurt.

The more variety in shape, size, flavour, brand and colour your child has in the foods that are preferred, the easier it is for them to try new foods.

  1. Steppingstone foods

Steppingstone foods are things like veggie crisps, freeze dried fruit, hot chips, and crunchy salad noodles. These foods are often much easier for children to eat than the steamed vegetables, fresh fruit, roast vegetables, or pasta that is being served at dinner. They act as a steppingstone in the direction of eating fresh fruit and vegetables.

Try these foods at lunch or snack time where there is often less pressure or expectation to eat than at dinner. If your child eats for example, some packet veggie crisps, you can serve these at dinner together with the other vegetables being served.

  1. Exposure, exposure, exposure!!

Fresh fruit, vegetables, and meats can be very challenging for the senses. Fruit and vegetables are brightly coloured and can be hard and crunchy or soft and juicy. Meat can have a VERY big smell and be tricky to chew.

Repeated exposure to challenging foods can help with their introduction. Try:

  • including children in shopping, preparation and serving of challenging foods.
  • using fruit and vegetables in baking or juices.
  • veggies cooked like a hot chip or potato crisp.
  • crumbing meat or serving with sauce for dipping.
  • having the foods in the middle of the dinner table so that your child sees them and can help themselves if they like.

Have no expectation that your child will eat these foods the first time. Also, avoid asking them to try the new foods.  You are just exposing their sense to these challenging foods, making it easier for them to have a taste when they are ready.

  1. Focus on fun and happy family meals.

Remember, a child is more likely to add a new food into their diet, and eat this food long term, if they are not forced or pressured to do so. I see many children that will take one small bite of any food just to “get the parents off their back.” They say, “I don’t like it.”, to all foods tasted and their parents say, “Thank you for trying.”

Focus on fun, happy meals where the conversation is around things that make you laugh and feel good. Jokes, progressive stories, riddles and catching up on the day are all ideas of keeping mealtimes relaxed and light-hearted.

If you feel happy, are not being forced to try something new, and are served meals with consideration of your preferences, you are much more likely to give new foods a try.

For some children, trying new foods can be extremely challenging and overwhelming. These children find even tiny changes to their preferred foods, difficult to manage. For these children, the introduction of new foods will often need to be done in very small steps and may need the support of a feeding therapist.

It can feel like an impossible task, feeding a fussy eater. Keep the steps small, have realistic expectations of yourself and your child and focus on meals that are fun and happy.