Get Your Kids to Try New Foods (No Bribes Needed!)

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Neophobia. It’s the fear of trying something new, and I see it in the clients I work with all the time. I’ve known a friend of mine for 20 years, and for 20 years she’s let neophobia rule her food culture. She eats only white food: pasta, bread, chicken, yogurt, potatoes and rice. Eating anywhere with her is pretty much a miserable experience. She’s anxious about eating away from home in the first place and constantly worries, “Will there be something I can eat?” When she’s ordering from the waiter, she’s got a rush of nervous questions: “Is it spicy? Is there anything green in it? Is the dish all mixed together?” Sadly, her rotten relationship with food and penchant for making dining a painful experience (for everyone) can probably be traced in a direct line back to her childhood.

All of us have some memory of enjoying a food, only to have our friend (or child) say, “Ew! You like _______ (fill in the blank)?!” My client’s son used to eat avocado with a spoon pretty much every day. One day he came back from preschool and declared he no longer liked avocados and not to send them in his lunch anymore. It turns out that a kid next to him at lunchtime told him his food was yucky.

His mom had a choice: She could take avocados out of his repertoire, banish them from his lips and honor his wishes, or she could take this as an opportunity to take all the behavioral nutrition I’ve helped to cram into her head and apply it with her son.

Eating is strongly influenced by social relationships, culture and environment. While it is perfectly normal for kids to go through food jags where they like certain foods and kick former faves to the curb, how you parent your kids as they form their eating relationships is uber-important in turning out healthy eaters.

It turns out that this child’s buddy had never tried an avocado and was reacting to his own fear of unusual foods. I don’t want any kid to let neophobia run his life, so here are my top tips to help your kids try and accept new foods:

Model, model, model

Until your kids are teens, you are their role model (then you get to turn that honor over to Taylor Swift and Derek Jeter). Kids watch their parents and mimic their behaviors, so you need to show them that you eat a variety of foods, that you try new things and what it looks like to taste something you don’t care for.

In short, show them with your actions how you would like them to behave and they will copy your lead. Sometimes it is helpful to think about food as analogous to life: We want our kids to be open-minded and nonjudgmental. Make sure you are showing this attitude toward food, just as you to do toward other, seemingly more important topics.

Try-it Tuesday

Add to your food culture a day of the week when you try something you have never tried before. Talk this up at the dinner table before you kick it into action. Prepare your family by telling them that you want to teach them to experience new foods because it will help you all eat a diet with more variety.

When it is possible, just like you ask your daughter if she wants the blue shoes or the red ones, ask her if she’d like to try dragon fruit or kiwi. Giving a choice between two foods empowers your kid in the decision making and may help her like a new food more.

Make some rules

Each family should come up with the rules that suit their household best. You may go with the one-bite rule, where everyone has to take one bite of everything on his or her plate. You may choose to assign a special plate as the tasting plate, so that if a food freaks your kids out, they don’t have it staring at them next to the chicken and broccoli they already enjoy. One of my favorites is a “no, thank you” bite, whereby the eater can ask for just a taste instead of a serving.

A “cook’s bite” is a bite you take to honor the cook who worked hard to make your food, even if looks like green slime to you. Regardless of the rules you make, let everyone know how you expect them to react to the food. There should be no “Ew!” or “Gross!” or “Yuck!” because that could make the little sister who may have loved the hummus not love it anymore.

Make it familiar

When you want your kids to taste it, eat it, try it, put it in the context they already know. This means you should keep most of the meal familiar to them. When they’re trying something new, there should be at least one thing on their plate that you know they love.

The new food doesn’t need to be hidden in the sauce; it can be presented with the rest of a meal that your family usually enjoys. For example, if your kids love pizza, make it in a new way to up the nutrition. It’s the same old pizza, but with a twist.

Keep trying

Keep in mind that it is human nature to have a little neophobia. Being skeptical of new things kept us from feasting on poisonous berries when we were hunting and gathering. Your children may not like the foods you want them to eat the first time. Or the second time. Or the third. Just keep trying! Eventually (it may take 20 tries!) the new foods will be accepted, if not adored.

Chickpea-Crust Pizza

Time: 45 minutes

Serves: 4

Crust:

2/3 cup chickpea flour

2/3 cup water

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

Tomato Sauce:

2 teaspoons olive oil

1/2 small onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 (8 oz.) can crushed tomatoes

Pizza Topping:

3 ounces (1 link) chicken sausage

1 cup provolone cheese, grated

1/2 teaspoon olive oil

Make the Crust:

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. In a bowl, whisk together chickpea flour, water, garlic powder and salt. In a round pizza pan, heat olive oil over a burner on medium heat, then pour “the dough” into the pan and spread it to about an 1/8-inch-thick layer.

Cook the ‘dough” for approximately 3 minutes, until the edges start to brown. Flip the crust over like a pancake and cook on the other side for approximately 3 minutes.

Tomato Sauce:

In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, garlic and carrots, and saute until the vegetables are soft, approximately 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Add tomatoes and simmer on low heat with cover on for 20 minutes or until thick. Put the sauce into a food processor and process until smooth.

Assemble the Pizza:

Brush 1/2 teaspoon olive oil over chickpea crust.

Cut chicken sausage into ¼-inch slices.

Spread a thin layer of tomato sauce over crust, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle grated provolone cheese, covering tomato sauce.

Place chicken sausage slices on top. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes.

Photo: iStock.com, Rich Vintage.

Keri Glassman is the founder and president of Keri Glassman, Nutritious Life and The Nutrition School. She is a contributing editor and advisory board member for Women’s Health Magazine, the Health and Wellness partner for JW Marriott, was Lead Nutritionist for Turner’s health and wellness entertainment brand, upwave and the Nutritionist and Judge on the healthy cooking competition show, “Cook Your Ass Off.” She has authored four books and is regularly featured on The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Access Hollywood Live.