Taste Testing: A Step-by-Step Approach
- Pick a new food similar to something your child already likes. If they like cucumbers, try thin slices of green pepper. If they like carrots, try red peppers. If they like one kind of bread, try a different kind of bread.
- Introduce it before you serve it. Sounds silly, but this step is important because children are often wary of foods they don’t recognize. For example, show your child a red pepper (the sweet, not spicy kind!). Go shopping with them and let them choose one to take home. Better yet, find one growing in a garden. Let them touch it and smell it. Cut it open and let them look at the intense color. Next, try a variety of ways to introduce red peppers to your family. Children may appreciate helping with cooking and serving “their” chosen vegetable. This will also help them make the connection between foods in different forms—that raw tomato they’re wary about tasting is the main ingredient in the pizza sauce they love. Introducing children to raw vegetables often helps them overcome their wariness of eating vegetables in cooked form.
- Serve a small amount, prepared as plainly as possible, but still packed with flavor. Use a little tasting bowl or ramekin, or serve a taste on a small spoon. A little bit of carrot soup on a spoon looks a lot less intimidating than a huge bowl of soup on the table.
- For cautious kids, you can try putting a small dollop or dab of the new food on one of their favorite crackers (or simply bread, if they prefer that). Some children will be reassured if they’re allowed to dab the food on the cracker themselves.
- Taste it yourself—and enjoy it! Research shows that kids are more likely to be willing to try (and actually eat) a food if parents or peers try it first—and visibly enjoy it. (Don’t fake it—they’ll have you figured out in a flash.)
- Don’t ask them to eat it; simply ask them to taste it. The key is not to create stress around accepting or rejecting new foods. Simply ask the child to taste and get acquainted with the dish. Removing the pressure to eat (by asking them to just taste) means that they aren’t resisting—they’re just experimenting, in a low-pressure and encouraging environment. Try telling them, “Don’t let the eyes do the work of the tongue.”
- Kids judge foods primarily by appearance (color and texture). This means they’re more likely to be wary of new things. If you sprinkle chopped fresh parsley on their favorite pasta, their suspicions will be raised, even if it tastes pretty much the same. Encourage them to move beyond first impressions and actually taste things rather than pre-judge them.
- You might also want to tell reluctant children that they’re allowed to spit the food out (as politely as possible) or to simply test it with their tongue. In other words, they don’t have to swallow the food that they’re taste testing.
- Most important, try not to react negatively if your child decides not to eat the new food. A cheerful, firm comment (“You’ll like it more the next time”) sends the right message.
- Ask your child to talk about it. Whatever you do, don’t ask your child if they like the new food—you’ll be setting yourself up for a “No!” Rather, ask them to describe the food in positive (or at least neutral) terms. If kids get used to saying “yuck” about anything unfamiliar, they’ll risk getting stuck in a food-refusal rut. Describing the foods will help make the food more familiar.
- Ask your child to tell you what they think about the actual taste of the food, commenting on the flavors and textures they’re encountering. Think of fun words you can teach your child to describe the different attributes of the food they are tasting: temperature (icy, lukewarm, steaming, scalding), taste (bitter, acidic, honeyed, savory, spicy, sweet-and-sour, tangy, zesty), texture (creamy, crunchy, crispy, crumbly, dry, fatty, fizzy, flaky, silky, tender, tough). Have fun thinking of new words or even inventing them.
- By giving your child the language to describe their food, you’ll find out what they like (as well as what they don’t like) and be able to adjust your cooking accordingly. So if the red pepper is “too crunchy” the first time you try it, you might try roasting it for the next taste experiment.
- Rotate the new food into your family meals regularly. How often will depend on your child; some will be open to new foods several times a week, whereas others may find that a little overwhelming at first.
- Older children will be able to handle more variety (for example, raw red pepper in a salad one day, roasted red peppers another day), but younger children may prefer less variety. You know your child best. 8. Keep trying (the “Delicious Dozen” rule). Don’t give up if the food is rejected once, or twice, or even more often than that. Be persistent (but not insistent).
- The new food in question should reappear on your family menu regularly at least until your child learns to like it. If they don’t like it, don’t react. Instead, tell them “You’re still learning to like it” or “You’ll like that when you’re a bit more grown-up” or “You just haven’t tasted it enough times yet.”
- It’s important that older children, in particular, give new foods a chance. Remind them that children need to taste (some) new foods up to a dozen times before they become familiar enough to be eaten—our family calls this the “Delicious Dozen” rule. Kids love to count (particularly younger kids). Even older ones like the challenge of remembering how many times they’ve tasted something. Of course, you can adapt taste testing in any way that works for your family.
How quickly should you try introducing each new food? I recommend creating a taste-testing plan, trying one new vegetable at a time. Most of my test families found that one vegetable per week was a good pace.
This information was adapted from Karen Le Billion’s book: Getting to YUM: The 7 Secrets of Raising Eager Eaters. (reproduced with permission from HarperCollins). Its a must read in my opinion.