We mostly think of TV as a negative influence on kids’ eating habits, encouraging them to chow down on sugary treats and fast-food meals. But Jessica Larose, now nine, credits her favourite TV show with motivating her to try sushi for the first time, when she was seven.
In her words: “I first heard about sushi on 6teen. I thought it looked good because it had different kinds of food in it, like seaweed, which I’d never tried before. And Caitlin on the show tried it for the first time and liked it. I thought it was cool that they ate it with chopsticks. And when I tried it, it was good, although I didn’t like the seaweed much.”
While preschoolers are renowned for pickiness when it comes to food, as they get older, children are often willing — even eager — to try new foods. Their taste buds are maturing and no longer as sensitive to strong flavours as when they were younger, and they are often interested in trying foods their friends or adults — or TV show stars — seem to enjoy.
So how can parents capitalize on this opportunity?
• If your child has expressed interest in trying something new, make sure there’s also a backup at the meal, says Jessica’s mother, Julie Larose. “I’ll make things I know she likes if I’m making something new that she’d like to try. With less pressure, she’s willing to be more adventurous.”
• Provide some interesting choices. “I’ll pull out some recipes for healthy snacks and ask Jessica to choose and then help me with the preparation,” adds Larose. Cooking magazines or cookbooks with lots of photos make it easy for even non-reading kids to find something that looks appealing.
• Try reverse psychology. Karine Bordua’s son, Simon, is six, and she sometimes prepares a new food just for herself. “I don’t even offer it to him, but it’s hard for him not to notice that I’m enjoying it. His curiosity gets to him and he asks to try it.”
• Make changes gradually. Nicole Gardner’s children liked all-fruit smoothies when they were younger, but she started adding “a few leaves of romaine lettuce, then a couple of spinach leaves or some chickweed.” Over time, she’s achieved a ratio of 60 percent fruit and 40 percent greens — and her kids think they are delicious. Kids hesitant to eat whole-grain bread might be willing to try 60 percent whole wheat slices, or a sandwich made with white bread on top and whole wheat bread on the bottom.
• When kids balk at something new, remind them about how their tastes have been changing lately. “I point out to Jessica that some of the foods that are her favourites now — like perogies and meat loaf — she didn’t like at all a couple of years ago,” says Larose. That seems to make her more willing to try the latest offerings, in the hope of discovering another new favourite.
• Encourage experimentation at buffet restaurants. Ordering a child something new in a restaurant is risky — he may hate it after one bite and you’ll still have to pay for it. But a buffet makes it easy for him to try small servings of various foods, and go back for more if he finds something he likes. You can do buffet-style meals at home too.
Of course, not all kids suddenly become adventurous eaters. If your child is still resisting broccoli and refuses to even look at spring rolls, just keep offering a healthy variety of foods. And maybe next year he’ll make friends with a little guy who loves broccoli, and the peer pressure will win him over.