A child may need to taste a food up to 14 times before they start to accept it. Through repeated exposure, they will become more and more familiar with the taste and texture of new foods and gradually learn to like them.
So if the key to raising a healthy eater is to get them to keep trying the healthy foods we want them to like, what do we do if they refuse to taste?
The more exposure your child has to a new food, the more familiar and the less daunting it will be. Touching, smelling or seeing foods a few times before tasting them can really help. This is why it’s a great idea to get your child involved with grocery shopping and cooking. For example, if you want your child to taste cauliflower, ask them to help you wash it and break off the florets before you cook it.
We might be asking them to ‘just have a taste’, but it’s hard to let go of those higher hopes and expectations – we want them to LIKE it and EAT it (or at least 3 more bites!). But this means asking for one thing and expecting another; it’s not fair on your child and disappointing for you.
When you focus on the trying, you’re only asking your child to have a taste – however big or small. It doesn't matter if they like it or not. It’s okay if they want to spit it out. After tasting, it’s up to them if they want to eat more of it or not. Regardless, you will be proud of them for tasting (a positive mealtime behaviour) and praise them.
“You just have to have a little taste, it’s okay if you don’t like it and you don’t have to eat more of it if you don’t want to”.
Removing the pressure to like or eat more of a new food can be really reassuring for your child. If you lovingly accept that they don’t like a new food or don’t want to eat more, they will be less likely to make a fuss, complain or throw a tantrum. Remember, at the start, it’s all about tasting and getting that repeated exposure.
Tasting new foods should be a positive thing; always praise your child for tasting and don’t worry if they don’t like it or don’t want to eat more of it. Hide your frustration if they spit it out or complain.
The more rewarded your child feels for tasting new foods, the more they will want to do it. Sometimes they will be rewarded by the food itself (they will realise it tastes good!), other times it will be by your smiles, high-fives or stickers. This positive outcome will convince them that tasting new foods isn’t this scary or terrible after all.
Why do you keep offering those foods to your child when you very well know that they don’t like them? This is exactly what your little one is wondering. It’s important for our kids to understand that they are learning to like foods, and that their taste changes every time they try something.
“Your taste changes all the time, so every time you taste it, you might like it”.
Talk about this with your child. Explain to them why they need to taste again those foods they don’t like yet. If they still don’t like it after trying, say ‘that’s fine, maybe next time you’ll like it’. If your child is a little older, you can also explain to them that learning to like foods is just like learning to read; the more they keep trying, the better they become. One day they will like lots of foods, the same way they can read lots of words.
If the steamed broccoli hasn’t been a success, it can help to offer it differently. When introducing new foods, start by including them in dishes that your child already loves. You could try adding broccoli to your pasta sauce or savoury muffins. Once they like broccoli in those dishes, they will feel more confident about tasting broccoli on its own, and have already started acquiring taste for it.
Encourage your child to mix a new food with another they like on the plate; for example, tasting a piece of broccoli with a piece of sausage. Studies have shown that pairing a new flavour with a flavour your child already likes can help them to like the new food. This is why it’s a good idea to combine new flavours with favourites ones.
So keep offering and encouraging your child to taste new foods, detach yourself from the outcome and praise them for trying. Practice makes perfect! The more they taste, the more confident they will become and the more they will expand their diet.