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Create Super Food Explorers through Gradual Exposure

Why do children have trouble intaking new foods?

Do you find that your kids have difficulty trying foods because of their texture, smell, taste, or appearance? Getting children comfortable with new foods can be quite the challenge to overcome for parents and caregivers from all around. Follow through the blog to see what we can do to help with their experience in trying new foods.

The process of introducing new foods to kids involves a wide range of sensory input, including sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. However, sensory feeding issues (SFI) are quite a common occurrence amongst children who have trouble processing sensory information. Without the proper approach to expand their eating ability, this slowly leads to fussy eaters that can crawl into their adolescent years. Studies have shown that the health risks involved in fussy eaters may lead to a weaker immune response and digestive problems leading to unhealthy body function. So, it is important to try and tackle down this issue while they are still young to develop healthy eating habits that lasts for life.

No pressure feeding environments have demonstrated to reduce resistance as well as increase tolerance to new or disliked foods. Using all five senses, the feeding practice known as gradual exposure (or systematic desensitisation) allows children to get comfortable experimenting with new foods at their own pace and in their own time. To increase children's interest in new foods, this method begins by having them see, touch and smell food. The children will gradually explore and taste the new food after several exposures to grow and enhance their degree of acceptance.

Before you start

But before we start getting into the steps involved in gradually exposing your child to new or disliked foods, there are a few points to note down and keep in mind.

  1. Make a list What foods does your child currently accept and what do they dislike? Familiarise yourselves with this and see what food needs to be worked on. Perhaps you can first work on foods that are quite similar in both lists and work on that as a base

  2. Follow the guide This guide is the key to introducing foods one at a time. It is important to be diligent through each step for gradual exposure.

  3. Do not skip steps Unless there has been success in the previous steps, it is important not to skip out on any of the steps so that we touch on each of the senses adequately.

  4. No pressure environment We want to go at their own pace. Encourage exploration but do not place any pressure in getting your child to eat the food. The idea of gradual exposure is to open them up to comfortably eating the previously disliked food on their own.

Gradual exposure step by step

Now let us get into the steps involved in gradual exposure!  There are 7 easy steps you can take to ease kids into building acceptance and trying new foods:

Step 1: See the food

Let them see the targeted food so that they can visually familiarise themselves with it. This step does not require much input as we are slowly introducing to them what it is. Kids can get a bit cautious towards things that they are not familiar with, so it is good to create a sense of curiosity.

To stimulate kids' curiosity about new foods by displaying foods in creative ways (like a carrot ribbon or dinosaur pasta) or showing kids images of food on the fridge.

Step 2: Play with the food

Now we move on to touching the food. Do not be afraid to get a little hands on! Allowing the child to see what it is by touch is an effective way to initiate them to loosen up to what it is.

Let the kids explore the food with their hands! Make new foods more appealing by cutting them into fun shapes with cookie cutters, or by counting, sorting, or juggling them.

Step 3: Smell the food

The aroma of the food throughout the preparation is important to the upbringing of tasting the food. Smell and taste are closely related senses of the five and thus, if the child is comfortable with the smell, it will have a significant impact on the final outcome.

Getting kids involved in the kitchen might help them develop a taste for the smell of food. They will be more willing to try something they proudly contributed to.

Step 4: Bring the food closer

So far, we have played around with the food and got them comfortable with the look, how it may feel, and the way it smells. Now, we try to edge the food closer to their plate.

Over multiple sittings, bring the food closer and closer to the child until they are comfortable with the food being on their plate.

Step 5: Lick the food

Here is where they really play with their food. Let them lick the food as a little snapshot of what it is in their mouth.

After a few exposures, it's time to encourage kids to having food near their faces, cheeks, chins, nose and mouth by licking. Try to put food on the face like a paint!

Step 6: Bite the food

We are not really getting them to eat the food, we are still trying to gradually get them used to having the food in their mouth before really consuming the food.

Work towards the children biting the food, then biting and holding the food in their mouth for a few second before spitting it out.

Step 7: Chew and Swallow the food

Lastly, work towards chewing and eventually swallowing.

Keys to success

  • Food play should always be outside of mealtimes.

  • Model target behaviours.

  • Offer lots of praise as your child shows the target behaviours.

  • Ignore unwanted or problematic behaviours as this might be seen as reward.

  • Have as much fun as you can and don’t be afraid to get messy.

  • Persist. It can take children up to 15 attempts before they accept a new food.


Click here to download a simple infographic to reference the Gradual Exposure technique.

7 Steps to Food Explorers_Infographic (2)
Download PDF • 1.94MB


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