First, it can take introducing a food many times before a child fully accepts it. Parents should not be discouraged when, after one or two tries, their child still will not eat broccoli. It can take up to 10 to 15 times before kids accept unfamiliar foods. A little time and patience will go a long way.
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Secondly, make foods fun. Cut veggies or fruit into fun shapes. Serve them with a low-fat yogurt dipping sauce or light dressing. Make faces with fruit slices. This makes trying them less intimidating.
Taking kids to a farm or farmers market is a good way to show them where the new foods come from. If they can see where an unfamiliar vegetable comes from it takes some of the mystery out of it. It can also make them excited to try it if they picked it out of the vegetable patch themselves.
Once you get back from the market, get the children involved in the cooking process. Even simple tasks such as stirring or adding seasoning helps them feel more invested in the meal.
Serving new foods with old favorites can be encouraging. If the whole plate is full of unfamiliar foods it can be overwhelming, or unappetizing. Serving zucchini alongside their favorite chicken dish is a better idea.
Limit snacks before serving a new food. If children have been snacking all afternoon and are full, it makes the unfamiliar foods less appealing. Only serve one to two snacks per day and serve them no later than one to two hours before mealtime. A hungry child is much more likely to clean his or her plate — new foods or not.
Lastly, make sure the parents are being good role models for their kids. If Mom is unwilling to try spinach, how can she expect her child to want to? Even willingness on the parents' part to try just a few bites will go a long way. Also, try to serve foods that you might not necessarily like. Just because Dad doesn't like cauliflower doesn't mean children should miss out on the opportunity to try it.
Kids' tastes will evolve and change as they get older. If, despite the above strategies, a food is still not accepted, try again in a few years. Kindergartners might not like salad, but your sixth-grader might love it.
Try not to get too discouraged in the process and keep the motivation up. Providing your children with a balanced and varied diet will be satisfying and rewarding in the end.
Brandy Baxter is a registered dietitian at Meritus Medical Center in Hagerstown. Her column focuses on kids' nutrition and normally is featured the first Sunday of every month.