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How to get your children to try new food

Blog

17 August 2022

Mealtimes can feel like a warzone for many parents and it’s not always clear what a balanced and healthy meal for your children looks like. We’re here to answer your common questions, such as whether children should be fed food they dislike and how to introduce new foods to picky eaters. 

What to include in a child’s meal

Food is an important part of a child’s physical and mental development so knowing what to include in your children’s meals can ensure your child is getting everything they need to function at their absolute best.

When planning meals for your children whilst at nursery, we make sure each meal contains all the important food groups including protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals.

Protein

Protein can be sourced from plants or from animals and is important for muscle growth and repair, supporting your little one to grow taller and stronger.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are key when fueling your child with energy so they can fill their day with fun and activities!

Fats

Healthy fats ensure vitamins and minerals are absorbed by the body so your kids can make the most of each meal.

Vitamins and minerals

Vitamins and minerals are a must-have for protecting against infection and disease, keeping them healthy and helping build strong bones.

Water

All-important water keeps your children hydrated and helps with healthy, regular bowel movements.

Learn more about the importance of nutrition and food from Jennifer Gordon, our Quality Manager and Stacy Stewart, one of our Chefs in our Nutrition podcast. They dive into everything food-related from food hygiene to the importance of food groups and how we make meal-time communal and homely in our nurseries. 

chlidren in the kitchen

Introducing new foods to children

New flavours, textures and colours can be a big no-no for children – especially when it comes to food! It’s normal for children to want to explore the food before they feel comfortable tasting it and the less pressure the child feels to try a food, the more likely they’ll try it in their own time.

When introducing new food to children, it’s common for them to refuse to eat it when they’re first exposed to it. If this happens, don’t hesitate to reintroduce the food to them again. You could even encourage them to play with the food to familiarise themselves. 

It’s quite common for a child to need to be exposed to a certain food up to 15 times before they feel ready enough to taste it. 

Consider introducing new foods alongside familiar favourites, or if you’re feeling creative you can present the food in a fun way, such as fun sceneries and nice shapes.

Tips for parents with picky eaters

If you’re struggling to encourage your child to eat a healthy and varied diet, you’re far from alone. Nearly 50% of parents consider their children to be fussy eaters, and you may be surprised to know that this is completely normal.

As children grow up, they develop their own likes and dislikes and it’s perfectly normal for your child to refuse certain foods or not finish their plate of food. This can be them asserting their independence – an important milestone in their development.

Many parents and carers find implementing a few tips and healthy food strategies into their daily routines helps picky eaters explore new flavours and textures, and encourages a healthier relationship with food.

young child preparing food

Get children involved in the kitchen

Children love to mimic their role models and get involved, so getting them involved with food preparation and cooking can help harvest a healthy relationship with food and increase their curiosity and confidence when it comes to tasting new foods.

Promote your little one to kitchen sous-chef and have them help with simple kitchen tasks such as measuring, mixing and stirring ingredients. Older children can even help with chopping food and setting the dinner table. This exposure to food introduces young children to new tastes and textures without pressure to eat the food.

Make self-serve meals

When children have the opportunity to serve themselves their own meal, it means they can choose their own portion size and decide if they want to add specific ingredients to their plate; for example, if they want to add more or less sauce or include a certain vegetable.

And on top of that, this simple change can add an element of fun and independence! Offering choice can be beneficial when it comes to mealtimes, and this autonomy can motivate children to eat more food and explore new food, tastes and textures in their own time. 

To complement this suggestion, try asking your child what food or meals they would like to eat throughout the week or invite them to do the food shop with you and pick out a new fruit or vegetable to prepare and taste. 

Be a food-positive role model

Children will take your lead and do as you do with most things during their development and mealtimes are no different. Where possible, eat the same meal with them and make it a fun experience by conversing with them. 

Talk positively about the food rather than asking your little one to try a specific food on the plate. Discussing the textures and flavours of the food and asking them what they think can help them explore new foods and harvest healthy eating habits.

Never force a child to try food

Bribing or forcing your child to eat their food can build reluctance towards food groups and they could end up refusing to eat the food altogether. Sometimes a child may not like the way that a vegetable or food has been cooked or presented, and this is okay! 

Rather than asking them to “try a bite for mummy/daddy”, offer to have them prepare the food with you and try a different way of cooking, preparing or presenting the food next time. This can help your child understand that there are different ways food can be cooked and not discriminate against food based on how it’s cooked.

Praise your child with stickers

A fun way to praise your child for expanding their food palette is with a mealtime sticker chart. Print out the chart and stick it somewhere both you and your little one can see and as they eat vegetables throughout the week, place a sticker that corresponds with the food and day to praise them for tasting and trying new foods.

This way you can see which vegetables your children like to eat and what you’ve served them over the week and the child is praised for their behaviour. 

Easy dinner ideas for kids (and the whole family)

We love good, nutritious and tasty food here at Kids Planet and in each of our settings we have an on-site, qualified chef who has a deep understanding of nutrition, food hygiene and menu planning so your children can enjoy delicious healthy meals no matter their dietary requirements. 

Our expert chefs are so passionate about food and your children’s nutrition that they’ve created a Kids Planet cookbook, full of your child’s favourite nursery meals. These dinner ideas are easy to cook with your little one and can be enjoyed by the whole family. Here’s one of our favourites:

Vegan pasta bake

This simple and delicious recipe can be made with the help of your little sous chef and is ready to serve in just 30 minutes. We recommend serving this dish with dairy alternatives, making this an easy and child-friendly vegan dish, however, you can substitute the non-dairy ingredients for dairy if you wish.

Simple vegan pasta bake ingredients

  • 150g dairy-free grated cheese
  • 150g uncooked pasta
  • 150g broccoli florets
  • 150g cauliflower florets
  • 1 can of chopped tomatoes
  • 25g of dried breadcrumbs
  • 3 tbsp of yeast
  • 1 tbsp of paprika
  • Ground black pepper

Kids Planet vegan pasta bake recipe

Cooking instructions

This dish serves 4 and can be prepped in 10 minutes and cooked in 30 minutes.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c fan or 200°c non-fan. Chop the cauliflower and broccoli into florets. 
  2. Mix the cauliflower and broccoli florets, the paprika, uncooked pasta, grated cheese and chopped tomatoes together.
  3. Transfer the mixed ingredients to an oven proof dish and sprinkle the top with the dried breadcrumbs and yeast.
  4. Place the dish in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden and the sauce is bubbling. If the pasta is still hard, cover the dish with tin foil and place it back in the oven for 5-10 minutes.

Did you try this delicious dish? Tag us in a picture on Facebook or Twitter!

Our Kids Planet recipe book is available to order from your nursery – we recommend a donation of £5, which goes towards our chosen charity – Feeding Britain.

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