Getting your toddler to try a new food—or to eat a food they liked last week—can be an uphill slog at times, but these tips might just help. I, of course, make absolutely no guarantees about these tips since toddlers are notoriously finicky, but I do think that there are simple things we can do to encourage our little eaters to branch out from their beloved staples.
Here are our 10 favorite ways to help toddlers broaden their taste buds.
- Offer teensy portions. I'm talking 2 peas, 1 sliver of apple, 1 spoonful of yogurt. New foods can easily intimidate or overwhelm our little ones, especially when it's a plateful of something unfamiliar. But offering really small tastes helps keep fear at bay and it can go a long way towards reducing the amount of food that gets wasted!
- Use foods you know they like. Using foods your toddler usually likes as a base to introduce a new food can help. Do they like oatmeal with raisins? Try swapping in diced peaches. Pasta with peas? Try broccoli the next time around. Providing familiarity and variety can go a long way. Explain what you are doing—you will almost never get away with a covert switch—so they understand that sometimes there is one fruit, and other days you get to enjoy another.
- Let them get hungry. If your toddler is suddenly not eating as well at dinner, try moving back his afternoon snack or eliminating it completely—there's a much better chance they will eat if they have 2-3 hours to work up an appetite. And this might not always work, but every once in a while, try a new food as an appetizer before there's any other food around. If your kiddo is really hungry, they might try a slice of red pepper or a few edamame beans.
- Take it outside. This might sound silly, but I swear my daughter's vegetable intake is lightyears higher when we're outside. From nibbling veggies straight from the garden—cherry tomatoes, kale, spinach, lettuce, green beans, you name it—to trying the offerings on veggie trays at potlucks, the fresh air (or something!) seems to help.
- Talk it up. Use descriptive words about the color, the texture, the flavor, and the temperature to intrigue your toddler. Challenge them to describe the food too—is it cold or hot? Does it feel crunchy or soft? This might get you farther than focusing on "like" and "dislike". L is currently obsessed with favorite colors—hers is pink (shocking!), daddy's is green, and mine is teal (or gray or purple, depending on the day). So we've been talking a lot about the colors of our foods lately. You can also try calling a bite a "Try it bite", which L's teacher has starting using and has been working well in our house. It's positive, nonthreatening, and fun.
- Don't push. The more you push your toddler to try a food, the less likely they are to actually taste it. Because what your toddler probably wants more than anything is power and a sense of control. So let them be in control—you decide what to offer, they decide if and how much to eat it. And don't sweat it if they refuse since that's a TOTALLY normal part of learning around the table. It does not mean you failed!
- Try not to take it personally if they refuse. I can almost guarantee you that whether or not your toddler tries the broccoli has little to do with your cooking skills. It's all about whether they feel empowered, comfortable, in charge, and in the mood. (I often think about how there are times when my husband cooks or offers me something and I'm just not interested—not because it's bad or I don't like it, but because I'm just not feeling pickles/bacon/tomatoes/etc at that particular moment.)
- Remember this is normal. Almost all kids show some resistance towards new foods or foods they are given—it's part of growing up and learning how to be a good eater. And think back: Did you like everything your mom served when you were a kid? Did you jump energetically into eating all the unidentifiable street food when you were traveling abroad? Probably not (unless you are a way braver eater than I am when traveling!). There legitimately might be foods that your child doesn't like, but it also might take them some time to learn to become familiar with other foods, whether because the flavor is different, the texture is difficult to chew, or it looks like something they can't quite identify.
- Add flavor. I know that I have a tendency to keep veggies really simple, especially in the summer when things taste so good (to me) on their own, but I also know that my girl loves broccoli at our local Japanese restaurant. Why? Because it tastes delicious in that brown sauce! And sure, that sauce probably has a lot of salt (and sugar), but don't underestimate your kid's palate. Flavor is good and it might be the gateway to helping toddler's learn to eat the foods plain down the road.
- Keep trying. You've all seen the stats about how many times it takes a toddler to try something before they like it, so think of your longterm goals. I'd bet that you care more about raising a healthy person overall than whether or not your toddler eats another spoonful of cauliflower tonight. Right? So keep offering fruits and veggies that your toddler currently won't eat regularly (but not everyday—you're not trying to actively wear them down!) and relax. You are doing a great job!
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