Helping Children to Try New Foods at Nursery

1st December 2021

Getting toddlers and young children to try new foods can be a bit of a challenge to say the least. Some children are naturally a little more selective about what they will eat than others and this is perfectly normal.

When it comes to offering foods at nursery it can be a challenge too as nurseries have to try to cater to multiple individuals, all who have different likes and dislikes and who are usually familiar with totally different styles of eating and flavours of foods at home. Nursery settings have to try and provide meals and snacks that will suit everyone and that can sometimes be a challenge in itself.

However, trying to support children to be a little more adventurous with their food and to try something new, could be a positive step towards helping children enjoy more foods and can also be helpful for parents/carers and staff at mealtimes.

For this reason I’ve written this blog with a few of my research based top tips to helping children try new foods:

1.) Role model – To young children we, as adults, are their role models. They will look up to us, copy us and learn from watching us eat and drink too. This means that (as much as you can) having similar foods and eating them with them may help them to be more willing to try and explore new foods. It’s not always possible to eat at the same time or the same food as children at nursery however, so instead you could simply try using positive language around the food on offer and talk positively about the smells, tastes or similar meals you enjoy at home.

2.) Offer variety – The more variety we offer to young children, the more variety they are likely to eat as they get older. If children are only offered 5 foods, they are only likely to accept and want to eat those five foods, which is understandable. Offering variety may take time, but it can help them to enjoy more foods in the long run. This is one of the reasons why Zebedees try to offer a wide variety of foods across their 3 week menus and why they include plenty of veggies too.

3.) Build familiarity and keep trying (even with rejected options) – Research has shown that FAMILIARITY with foods (including new foods) can lead to acceptance of and more of a liking for those foods. Therefore sometimes children might need to see, talk about, read about and/or taste foods up to 15 times before they will accept it. With some children it may take longer – so don’t give up and keep gently offering.

4.) Avoid pressure to “eat up” – We know from research that putting pressure on kids to eat foods makes them want the food even less. Offering food rewards or trying to bribe them to eat also doesn’t work in the long run, so it’s best to avoid doing this and simply let them decide how much they will eat at mealtimes. Some of the above strategies can help you to encourage them to try new foods without pressure to eat up. Remember however that it can take time, and is unlikely to happen overnight.

5.) Food language – try to avoid drawing negative attention to foods and meals – commenting negatively in front of children on smells, appearances or how you feel about the food isn’t going to be helpful to encourage them to try and enjoy their meals. Instead, this is going to lead to young children immediately copying and will likely result in more foods going uneaten – even if they were willing to try it in the first place. Remember you’re role models to these young children and they will look to you for guidance on what to eat and what they enjoy.

6.) Don’t draw attention to food refusal – If children won’t taste new food or if food is refused it’s best to not overly draw attention to it. Other children may pick up on this, but also doing so might result in them doing it more and more so that they get some attention at mealtimes. Additionally it’s best not to tell children off for leaving foods on their plates and, instead, let them decide how much they will eat at mealtimes.

7.) Make mealtime environments enjoyable – If mealtimes are enjoyable and a place that little ones want to be, they are more likely to enjoy the foods on offer too. You could try putting children next to their friends or sitting children who are more selective with their foods next to children who are more varied eaters, which might help encourage them to try something new.

8.) Get them involved – If you can get children involved in part of the mealtimes, they are often more likely and willing to try what’s on offer – even new foods. So ask them to serve, be snack helpers or help with laying the table if you can.

These are just a few pointers you can try at your nursery setting (and parents can try at home). We’d love to know if you’ve tried anything and if anything else works for you at your setting too. We’d love your feedback and we’re also looking for some positive mealtime case studies to share, so if you have a story to tell us about your mealtime environment or helping little ones to enjoy foods, let us know via:   

 Blog written by Charlotte Stirling-Reed – The Baby & Child Nutritionist

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