How to encourage children to try new foods
If your child is a picky eater or regularly refuses to eat their vegetables, here are 5 small changes you can make to help them explore, and hopefully enjoy, a variety of different foods.
5 ways to encourage children to try new foods
1. Let them play with their food
We don’t just taste food. It’s a whole sensory experience where sight, sound and smell are all equally important. Therefore, allowing children to play with their food might help them find enjoyment in eating it.
Make mealtimes appealing by adding some fun to your child’s food. Whether that's dinosaurs climbing through a forest of greens on top of a mountain of mash, or cutting and arranging sandwiches in the shape of an owl. You just have to be a little creative about it. And if creativity isn’t your thing, a quick Google search of ‘making food fun for picky eaters’ will leave you bursting with ideas.
If you're fostering a child with complex needs such as autism, you’ll also need to think about the texture of food and make sure you provide a balance of sensory feedback in every meal as well as nutrition.
2. Less is more
Portion size is important. Children's stomachs are much smaller than ours, and they can sometimes feel overwhelmed when presented with big meals. Less is often more, and you can always offer them a little extra if they’re still feeling hungry.
But it’s also important to remember that food, or lack of food, can be triggering for children in foster care. Especially for those who have come from environments where there’s been a shortage of food or where they’ve had to fend for themselves. To help reduce anxieties around food running out, you could also show them that there's more available if they’re still hungry.
When you introduce new foods to the children in your care, start with a small portion and build up over time. Also, make sure you have a combination of foods that you know they’ll like as well as new things you’d like them to try.
3. Get children involved in the preparation
One of the most enjoyable things about mealtimes is watching others enjoy what you have prepared. Get the child in your care involved in preparing the food with you. Research shows that children who are involved in preparing meals have more positive attitudes towards food. They're also more likely to eat the food if they help to prepare it.
4. Lead by example
Be the role model the children in your care need. Make sure you’re enjoying family meals together, and when offering new foods, it’s important you also eat them. After all, you can’t expect the child in your care to eat veggies if you don’t eat them either!
5. Don't pressure them
Finally, it's important that the child in your care has a positive experience with food. Try not to pressure them into trying new things. Instead, emphasise how delicious you find it, and cook it regularly so they have plenty of opportunities to try it when they’re ready.
This piece of advice is especially important for those children who are still settling into your home. To begin with, it’s often better to make the meals they enjoy while you establish a relationship – even if that’s cereal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Once they feel safe and secure, you can slowly start to introduce new and more nutritious foods that will improve their health and diet in the long term.
As a foster parent, you may face lots of different challenges around food. It’s important to allow each child in your care to move at a pace that’s right for them, gently encouraging them to try new things and helping them to develop their own preferences around healthy foods. If you have any concerns about a child’s relationship with food, then always speak to your social worker or somebody from your fostering support team.
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