Published On: July 4th, 2024

Discovering new foods, tastes and textures is an exciting yet daunting time in a child’s development. It can be difficult to know how to begin introducing new food into a child’s diet, but when done successfully it can provide a fun, fantastic learning opportunity that helps to steer away from any fussy eating habits. 

Why is it important to introduce children to new foods, tastes and textures?

Exploring and experiencing new tastes and sensations when eating food plays a crucial role as a child grows. Introducing new foods helps them to get used to eating a variety of foods, setting them up for more healthy and balanced eating habits in the future. An early introduction to new tastes and textures also helps to foster a natural curiosity in food, discouraging any problematic or particular eating habits. By introducing new foods from a young age, you can teach them to embrace new experiences, and to not be put off by an unfamiliar sight, taste, smell or texture. 

Top tips for helping children discover new tastes and textures

Introducing new foods to children can be a daunting prospect. Mealtimes can be difficult for parents who are already struggling for time in their busy day-to-days, and the thought of changing that routine may feel overwhelming. However, there are simple and gentle ways you can begin to introduce new foods to children, to reduce the chance of upsetting them or making things more difficult for you. 

Introduce new foods slowly and without pressurising

Take your time when introducing new foods into a child’s diet. Introducing too many new foods at once could overwhelm them, so slowly integrate new items alongside the foods that they know and recognise. Try to focus on introducing one new item alongside the food they’re used to. Exposure is key, so even if they don’t go near it for the first few meals, they’ll get used to it being a part of their routine. 

It’s not important whether or not they immediately try to eat the new foods; they should have the opportunity to explore new textures, smells and sensations without the pressure of having to eat it. First steps are often the scariest, but once a child is used to small, consistent changes, they will be more receptive when you encourage them to try something new. 

Describe the taste or texture first

Describing the taste or texture of an item is a great way to alleviate some of the anxiety children experience when faced with a new food. You can describe what the food feels like when you touch it with your hands as well as when you eat it. Showing that it’s okay to start exploring new foods with your hands not only familirises a child with how a food feels, but also encourages them to get involved, even if they don’t feel ready to try the food. 

When describing the taste, honesty is the best policy. Telling a child that broccoli tastes like chocolate will only give them a distrust of new foods, and will discourage them from trying again. Try to avoid using opinionated language like “tasty” or “yucky”, as this type of language gives them a biassed opinion of what to expect that may significantly differ from their own. Instead, use impartial descriptive language like “fresh”, “sweet”, “salty” or “cold”, “crunchy” or “soft” to give them an idea of what to expect from a sensory perspective. 

Get them involved with cooking and preparing

Encouraging children to get involved with cooking and preparing food is not only a great way to teach them key life skills and safety in the kitchen, but is also a subtle way to begin to introduce new foods in a less-pressured setting. During mealtimes, children may feel intimidated by what’s on the plate in front of them, as they may feel as though there is pressure to eat it. By getting them involved in the cooking and preparation proceeds, you give them the opportunity to familiarise themselves with a new ingredient. 

You can give them the chance to see, smell and feel the food at different stages. For example, you could show them a carrot before and after it’s been peeled and chopped, discussing how it’s shape and texture have changed. If you are cooking something, talk about how it has changed, allowing them to ask questions and get involved whenever it’s safe to do so. 

Let your children see you eating new foods too

Modelling how you explore new foods is a great way to encourage children to do the same. Try wherever you can to eat at the same time, so that they can see how you approach something on your plate. Show them how you can explore new foods by sniffing before trying them, or licking them. You should try to encourage them to ask questions, and ask questions back in return. Some good, open questions to start a conversation could be “What does it remind you of?”, “How is it the same?” or “How is it different?” Creating a dialogue not only gives them the opportunity to process the sensory experience of a new food, but also encourages them to ask questions themselves, adding to the overall learning experience. 

Try to have a positive attitude

It can be difficult maintaining a positive attitude when trying to introduce new food to children. At times you may feel as though the task itself is impossible. Remember that it’s normal for young children and toddlers to refuse to eat or taste new foods- you’re not doing anything wrong! Try your best to stay positive in the face of resistance. Introducing new foods is rarely something that happens with ease the first time. Be as patient as you can- if they won’t try a new food today, then try again at the next mealtime. By doing your best to remain calm, you’ll avoid creating a negative association with mealtimes and food, and help them to remain calm when faced with something new. 

Be mindful of portion sizes

Portion sizes are important to consider when trying to introduce new foods. Start with small, finger-food size portions of new food, that won’t overwhelm them or be the focus of the meal. Smaller pieces are also great for encouraging children to pick up and touch the food, creating an easy segue into a conversation about how the new food looks and feels. Of course, it’s also important that you keep food safety in mind when introducing new food to children. Consider how easy the food is to eat, or if it’s something that they may find more difficult to chew than the food they’re used to.  

Find fun ways to explore new foods together

Making food “fun” is a great way to encourage children to explore new foods, without the pressure of having to eat it. Food play doesn’t mean smearing yoghurt into the carpet or making a mess that can’t be cleaned up: it just means finding new ways for your child to see and experience new foods. If you don’t mind a bit of mess, it’s a good idea to keep “food play” separate from meal times, so that the child understands the difference between mealtimes for eating and “food play” as a time for learning and sensory discovery. 

Some ways to incorporate food play into your child’s day to day could include: 

  • Creating funny faces with food on paper plates 
  • Feeding puppets or toys food 
  • Taking toys on a picnic 
  • Make food “jewellery” with dried food like cereal or pasta
  • Sort different foods by colour, shape or texture 

It’s worth noting that children with different sensory needs may not feel comfortable touching food with their hands, so you can adapt by placing food into see-through plastic bags, or giving them a spoon to move food with.

How do our staff at Monkey Puzzle help to make mealtimes fun?

The staff at Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries work to boost the time you’ve put into introducing new food at home, by continuing to encourage food learning and play. Our lovely day nursery settings incorporate aspects of food play across all levels and ages: whether it’s using potato stamps, playing with play dough or baking cookies in our kitchens. Our Early Years Foundation Stage framework (EYFS) helps the children in our care to learn about themselves and the world around them, encouraging curiosity and learning through play. As part of Marvin’s World we also have Cook with Marvin, which includes recipes that you can try at home. 

Monkey Puzzle Day Nurseries can help you to introduce new foods into your child’s diet, ensuring that they have healthy and nutritious meals whilst incorporating plenty of fun. Find a nursery in your area, or for enquiries contact a nursery near you.

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