It’s easy to get into a rut of preparing and eating the same meals week after week. While this is usually okay, it’s troublesome if the diet is too restrictive or lacking in key nutrients. A balanced and varied diet ensures nutrient requirements are met over the course of days. With increased variety comes an increased likelihood that nutrient needs are being met.
It’s important to introduce kids to a varied diet to promote growth and healthy development as well as to establish healthy habits. Summer is a great time to introduce new foods to your family. Days are more relaxed, there’s fresher, local produce in the stores and at farmers’ markets, and active days may produce bigger appetites.
Here are four tips for how you can effectively introduce new foods to yourself, children or family.
Plant a garden
A garden is a terrific hands-on experience that provides wide-reaching health benefits. When children and adults are regularly involved with gardening, they experience less stress and depression, and reduce reliance on medication and psychiatric services. Symptoms associated with ADHD and Alzheimer’s can also be minimized. Working in a garden improves children’s attitude towards healthy eating and increases their willingness to eat vegetables and fruits. Involvement with food preparation also teaches children where food comes from prior to reaching the grocery store.
You can plant starter plants (already beginning to grow) for an easy, time-saving approach. Popular options are tomatoes and peppers. If you prefer to start with seeds, try radishes, carrots and green beans for easy-to-cultivate options.
Visit a farm or farmer’s market
Visiting a farm or a farmers’ market is a great option if you don’t have the space, skill or desire to plant your own garden. Both farms and farmers’ markets bring kids closer to food production and provide the opportunity to meet actual farmers. Plus, the food is super-fresh and delicious! Fresh produce allows for some great conversations about foods’ growing seasons and the nutritional benefits of eating food that’s in-season and locally grown. It also provides the opportunity to see new foods or varieties, and non-perfect or oddly shaped produce. This provides a more realistic view of what’s often viewed in grocery produce sections.
Involve kids in food prep
Preparing food is a great skill with long-lasting benefits. In the short-term, children who assist with meal preparation have been found to eat more vegetables and a greater variety of food. While it’s not guaranteed that kids will eat the food they’ve helped prepare, they will have been exposed to the food. Children often need 8-15 exposures (or more) to a food before they are willing to try it. Seeing, touching, smelling, etc. all are considered exposure, and can shorten the timeline of acceptance. It’s important not to pressure kids to eat the food they’ve made, as this will turn them off from doing so again and detract from the exposure and positive feelings around food preparation.
Involvement in food preparation depends on age and skill level. Their involvement can be anything from going grocery shopping with an adult, peeling and cutting vegetables, mixing ingredients, or preparing whole dishes. Teach your child safety skills and ensure there’s necessary supervision.
Serve new foods at meals or snack
Both mealtime and snack time offer benefits to introducing new food. There is often less pressure to eat a snack, whereas family meals have others modeling trying and eating unfamiliar food. You can decide when it’s best for your child to try a new food. There needn’t be any “one bite” or “just taste” policy. When kids see others eating a food and don’t have any pressure to eat (even positive, or unspoken pressure) they may try new foods. Pair a new food with recognized and liked foods and prepare it in a familiar and enjoyable way. For example, say your child likes maple glazed green beans. Mix in some white asparagus as an introduction. Kids may or may not eat it, but this food chaining can remove some of the hesitancy around new foods. Another option is to serve it alone with other familiar and liked options in the same meal, so they have what to eat besides the unfamiliar food.
Limited diets can be difficult to manage, as they may be lacking nutritionally or make it uncomfortable to be in social situations. Introducing kids to new foods is an important way to expand their palates and diet. By offering more variety in a non-pressured environment, your children are more likely to try (and enjoy!) new food. If your child has more serious eating issues you may want to consider seeing a feeding expert.
- Davies, G., Devereaux, M., Lennertsson, M., Schmutz, U., & Williams, S. (2014). The benefits of gardening and food-growing for health and wellbeing. Garden Organic and Sustain
Bracha Kopstick is a Registered Dietitian in Toronto and owner of BeeKay Nutrition. She takes the “diet” out of “dietitian” and wants you to take it out of your life! As a nutrition expert, Bracha promotes eating home-prepared foods more often and taking time to enjoy what you eat without any associated guilt. She is available for in-person and on-line counseling. Contact her at Bracha@beekaynutrition.com