Getting children to try new foods can be challenging, whether they are very young and reluctant to try anything new, incredibly fussy about tastes and textures, or older and set in their ways. Many parents find mealtimes a struggle. If you spend hours cooking different meals for every member of your family, only for plenty to end up wasted, chances are you are feeling frustrated and wondering why you bother.
There are many benefits to adding variety to your children’s diet, and fortunately, some fun ways that you can get them to try new things. Below is a look at some of those benefits, as well as some ideas of things that you could try to make family mealtimes less stressful.
Benefits of a Varied Diet in Childhood
There are many different benefits of a varied diet in childhood. Let’s take a more detailed look at some of them.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of a more varied diet is access to essential nutrition. Often, people with a limited diet and fussy tastes stick to fairly bland, flavour and colourless foods. This is usually described as a beige diet made up of things like chips, breaded chicken, and frozen processed foods. This can make it hard to eat a nutritionally balanced diet and most fussy eaters are lacking in many important nutrients.
This can lead to digestive problems, growth issues, and many other problems. A more varied diet, especially one that contains lots of fruit and vegetables increases nutrition and reduces the risk of health concerns.
A Strong Immune System
What we eat has a big impact on our immune systems. People who eat a limited diet are often prone to coughs, colds, and other bugs. This can be worse in childhood when they are exposed to plenty of different germs at school. A healthy diet, with lots of nutrients and vitamin C, can be a fantastic immunity boost.
Increased Energy Levels
A beige diet with lots of processed foods, saturated fats and refined sugars can make us feel sluggish, bloated, and lethargic. A healthier and more varied diet can mean that we are more energetic and alert. For children, this increased energy can help them to focus and do well at school, enjoy active hobbies and sleep well.
Eating a varied diet in childhood means that we are more likely to carry on into adulthood. This can help us to form and maintain healthy habits with food and reduce the risk of eating disorders and obesity in later life.
Pizza nights can be an extremely fun and effective way to get your family to try new foods. If your kids already love pizza, they’ll enjoy getting stuck in and making their own dough before adding different toppings.
You can put most things on a pizza, and it’s a great way to try individual new ingredients, especially things like meat and vegetables without having to try a completely new meal, which many children can find overwhelming.
Let them stick to their favourite toppings while encouraging the addition of one new thing a week, even if it’s only a small amount on a section of the pizza.
If your family are big pizza lovers, a pizza oven from Ooni can make it even more fun, and the quick cooking times mean that it’s easy to let everyone make their small pizza, and experiment with even more new flavours and textures.
Theme nights are great. They are an easy way to try new ingredients and flavours without having to make entirely new meals. They can help children to feel in control and they can make meal planning much easier. Pizza is a great option, but it’s certainly not the only one. Taco Tuesday or just Mexican night is another fantastic theme night that many families enjoy.
Things like tacos and fajitas offer a chance to enjoy social eating. Prepare the salad, vegetables, and healthy dips, as well as fun sides such as Mexican rice and take them all over to the table. Let your kids build their own tacos, encouraging them to try different things. This kind of social eating can make meals more fun and help children to feel less pressure to clear their plates.
Cooking together is great fun, but it’s also a chance to teach your children new skills, more about nutrition and different foods, and a way to give them control over what they are eating. Adults that cook from scratch are more likely to eat a varied and nutritious diet, and it’s no different for children.
Even young children can help with simple recipes with supervision, and older children will be able to start doing more alone. Many families find that starting with easy baking is a great way to introduce children to kitchen safety and skills, before moving on to savoury recipes.
Pick Your Battles
Most of us have tastes that we don’t enjoy. Just because your child is fussy, or prefers specific things, it doesn’t mean that they are lying. Trying to force them into eating something that they genuinely don’t like the taste or texture of will only make them more reluctant. It certainly won’t help them to build good habits.
So, encourage them to try things, but if they tell you that they don’t like something, leave it. Perhaps coming back to try it again in a few months once their tastes have developed.
Grow Your Own Food
Like cooking, growing food is a great way to teach them about food and nutrition. It’s also a chance for them to learn more about where their food comes from, and to get the satisfaction of knowing that they have grown something themselves.
Most children love to get a little messy, so let them get involved in the garden. Even if you have a very small garden, you should be able to grow things like tomatoes in baskets and pots. If you have no outside space at all, an alternative is to go to a pick your own farm.
When we’re busy, eating together isn’t always possible. But try to sit down together for at least one meal a day when you can. Leave phones and other devices in other rooms and enjoy spending time together chatting as you eat. This can help your children to enjoy mealtimes and take some of the focus off what they are eating. They’ll also be more likely to try new things if they see other members of the family eating them.
Eat Out and Order in
Eating out, and ordering food to be delivered is a great way to turn meals into a special event and to try new things together. Even if you only do this for special occasions, it can be effective.
It’s important to remember that not all of these ideas will work. Try them all and stick with the things that go well. If your children enjoy things like Mexican night and pizza dinners, try other theme nights as a way to add fun and variety to mealtimes.
Often, getting children to eat a more varied diet is a process of trial and error and it rarely happens overnight. But if you commit to trying new things as a family, you’ll soon find that they start to become more open to new tastes, flavours, and food experiences and that you all start to reap the benefits of a more varied and nutritionally balanced diet.