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Introducing New Food to Kids in Childcare

Whether you've got a bunch of new kids, or you're offering food at your centre for the first time, this blog will help you get the kids noshing now!

Introducing new food to children can be challenging - fussy eaters or not. It is important that we persist with introducing new foods as the foods that we offer our children shapes what they eat as adults. Eating a greater range of foods is also crucial to ensure that they are able to meet their nutritional requirements.

We need to keep in mind that children are still learning about food. Most children are skeptical eaters and often won’t try a new food the first time that they are offered it. In fact, evidence suggests that it can take a child 20 +++ exposures to accept a new food.

Children learn to explore food with all of their senses. This exploration of food is an important part of the development and acceptance process. At first, children may play with the food with their hands or even move the food around in their mouth without swallowing it. This can often be misinterpreted as a rejection of the food, however this is a completely normal part of the learning and exploring phase. It is an encouraging step- it shows an interest and a willingness to engage.

There are 6 easy steps we can do to help make the process of introducing new foods easier.

1. Build their interest

Building children’s interest in new foods before even offering or presenting them the food can really help with acceptance. Knowledge is power- the more they know about the food and the more familiar is seems to them, the more likely they are to accept it.

Try things like…

  • Explore what’s on the menu with children

  • Discuss where the food comes from and how some might be made

  • Ask children to guess some ingredients, what they look like, and how they grow

  • Make up games or songs like ‘Find the Magic Beans’

2. Create a routine

Routines are great for children. Creating a routine around mealtimes is a great way to switch off from what they were doing, create calm and get them in the mindset to eat a meal. Routines in their menus also reduces anxiety as they know what to expect.

Here’s some ideas…

  • Structure the menu so it follows a daily pattern

  • Establish predictable meals at set times and durations

  • A 5 minute warning then wash hands and maybe even set the table

  • Play or sing a positive song whilst preparing for the meal

  • Sit together at the table and avoid outside distractions

3. Teach them to be food explorers

Kids learn by exploring. Teach the children that they are ‘still learning to like foods’ and to do this they can use all of their 5 superpower senses - Sight, Smell, Touch, Taste, Sound.

Assure them that they don’t have to eat anything they don’t want to, and if they’re ready to try something but are a bit unsure, they can try a snake’s taste. Talk to them about the food and ask them questions about their experiences. Asking open ended questions about the food is are a great way to get children really involved and engaged in the learning process.

Examples of some questions are…

  • What do you think it looks like?

  • Does it have a smell? What does the smell remind you of?

  • How does it feel to you?

  • How does it taste on it's own compared to mixed in?

  • What sound does it make when you chew it (or snap it in half)?

And lastly that being Food Explorers means that you’re never ‘rude to food’! We don’t say yuk! We say yes please and no thank you.

4. Create a Positive and Relaxed environment

Kids eat best when they aren’t stressed or anxious, so its important to keep the environment where they’re eating chilled. Although food introduction can be an anxious experience for caregivers as well, try to remain calm. Pushing children to eat foods increases stress levels and can cause children to disengage and reject foods. When presenting the opportunity to trial new foods, provide encouragement, but don’t force anything.

Here's some tips…

  • “Mmm that was yummy, do you want a little taste?” is a much less threatening way to introduce food to a child than “You have to eat this”.

  • Start with small servings that won’t overwhelm, they can accomplish & maybe even then ask for more. That’s a positive experience!

  • Rejoice their achievements and build on them like “well done for eating the avocado sandwich, maybe you can try the avocado dip on Thusday”

  • Don’t put too many new things on a plate at once that can be overwhelming

  • Ensure there is always an accepted food on the plate. This way the child knows they have something to eat and it doesn’t create stress. Let them choose to taste a new food or leave it.

5. Lead by example

Kids model their behaviors on you. They learn from watching and then imitating your behaviors. If they see you eating and enjoying a food that lets them know that this food must be ok. It eases their anxiety makes them feel more comfortable.

What are things that you can do?

  • Eat the same food and sit with the children to eat it - if you are doing it they will try to imitate you!

  • Ensure you display positive attitudes towards the food, even if it is not one of your favorites.

  • Show them how to be a super Food Explorer identifying the smells, colours, textures, and flavours.

  • Use Positive language around food like ‘this will give me energy’, or ‘make me content’, or ‘make me feel better’.

6. Let them be the boss

Give them a sense of autonomy around mealtimes. Allow the kids the freedom to trial what foods they want to trial, and also how much food they need. We often overestimate how much food is adequate for kids. They are built to self-regulate their own hunger and fullness cues and their appetites can vary wildly from day to day as they grow. Also give them other areas where they can feel in control if they want to and really enjoy the experience.

What can you do?

  • Provide choice, and let them choose “Which would you like to eat – this one, this one, or both?”

  • When they’re old enough let them take charge and feed themselves and then even better, serve themselves.

  • Think about what else you can allow them to do for themselves at mealtimes, like clearing or cleaning up after, getting their own cutlery, napkin, etc

What Yummies does to help

For 15 years we have specialized in food for children and our meals have been carefully created to maximise nutrition and ensure acceptance by the children.

  • Meals are texturally appropriate for the age groups

  • We pair an exploratory food with a safe food so that the kids won’t be overwhelmed.

  • Our meals are based on home cooking principles. We offer a variety of meals but ensure they are “kid friendly”

  • We present the same foods in different ways (eg mashed sweet potato, steamed sweet potato), giving children options to trial different textures.

  • We build structure into our menus that provides a routine to the children.

  • If introducing new menu items, we do so gradually. We don’t want to overwhelm the children by introducing too many new foods in a short period of time. Kids like routine.

Download a copy here of the 6 Easy Steps to Introducing Food in Childcare and share it with your team.

Introducing Food - Share
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