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8 Tips for Raising Adventurous Eaters

Adventurous Eaters des moines moms blogOnce upon a time (ok, this was last year) we invited one of my daughter’s preschool friends and her mother over for a lunch playdate. Everything was going swimmingly – the girls played perfectly, the moms had a nice chat, everything was really lovely – until, that is, I made lunch.

It was what I would consider a normal lunch for us – ham and cheese roll-ups, a fresh fruit salad, baby carrots with homemade ranch dip, and some cheese flavored crackers in the shape of an animal. My girls tucked in happily, but the little friend immediately threw a temper tantrum – and a giant one.

“Oh, sorry”, the mom explained “I should have warned you – she doesn’t eat anything except peanut butter and grape jelly on white bread. And cheese sticks”.

Uhh…. Say what?!

The mom then went on to explain that literally, this was the only thing the little girl ate – and she ate it every single day for 3 meals a day, and sometimes snacks, too. No fruits. No vegetables. No meat. No variety. 

Adventurous-Eaters des moines moms blogI mean – I totally get it. My youngest would happily survive on nothing but crackers and mac and cheese if I let her. But that is the point – I don’t let her. We are just as likely to have curry for dinner as chicken nuggets, and while my kids might not love every single thing they are served, they eat it anyway. 

Eating adventurously doesn’t necessarily mean your kiddos will be begging for sushi, beets, and liver – but it does mean they can enjoy a wide variety of foods, and be open to trying and exploring new things as well! 

Adventurous-Eaters des moines moms blogWant your kids to be open to trying new food? Here are eight ways to raise adventurous eaters. You can start implementing them tonight! 

1. Early Exposure

The earlier you can expose your kiddos to a variety of flavors, textures, ingredients, and cuisines, the better off their chances of loving a wide variety of foods will be. During pregnancy and breastfeeding is awesome, but incorporating new flavors into your baby and toddler’s diet is key.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, kids do not need overly bland foods! While babies and toddlers do have twice the amount of taste buds as adults do, and are more sensitive to flavors, that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy having flavors!

And whether you choose to make your own baby food, feed baby straight from your plate, or buy it from a store, there are so many awesome and flavorful choices! Every food is “kid friendly” if you let it be!

2. Serve a Variety 

Giving your kids options of different foods is super important. I try to make sure each meal consists of a variety of different colors of food as well as foods from each “food group”. That way if they decide they don’t like curried chicken, they have a variety of other healthy options that will satisfy their tummies and keep them from going to bed hungry.

Divided plates with 3-5 spaces are my favorite meal time accessory, because it helps me remember to serve lots of different things! 

3. Keep Trying 

Did you know your taste buds are replaced about every two weeks, and they are continually changing?! Just because something doesn’t go over well today doesn’t mean it will forever be a hated food. Keep trying!

Try new ways of preparing food (baked, grilled, poached, etc) and with different herbs and other ingredients to change the flavor and how it is presented. For the longest time I thought asparagus was utterly disgusting—because I had only ever had it simmered in water until it was mushy and tasted like grass. Then I had it grilled, and I discovered I LOVE it!  

4. Don’t Impose Expectations

This one is soooo hard because the whole family needs to be on board. If you want your 4-year-old to eat broccoli, then Daddy (or someone else) can’t go on and on about how much they dislike broccoli. Those expectations go a long way.

Phrases like “I don’t think you will like this” or “You are going to LOVE this” set the stage for failure and mistrust. Allowing a child to make their own discoveries is important.

Focus on the health qualities of the food, how you used a new ingredient, where it comes from, or how it is made. Then, instead of your little sponge suddenly regurgitating someone else’s opinion about the food, they are more likely to feel curious and want to try it. 

5. They Eat What You Eat

For the love of Pete, please stop being a short order chef!

Your job is NOT to make 4 different meals that cater exactly to everyone’s specific taste preferences so that everything is rainbows and sunshine. Your job is to nourish your family with a dinner you have lovingly prepared for them. It is then their responsibility to decide if they are going to eat it (whether or not they like it) or be hungry.

One Meal. No Alternatives. 

I promise they won’t shrivel up and die because they don’t eat 100% of the food on their plate. Pinky Swear. And more often than not, they will eat.

6. Ease Up 

I know. It’s really easy to get uptight with dinner time rules. But the more rules you try to enforce, and the more micromanaging you do during dinner time (‘Take another bite’, ‘eat some chicken’, ‘don’t use so much ketchup’), the less enjoyable meal time becomes.

Think about it – do you like it when your boss or significant other stands over your shoulder and tells you exactly what to do during each and every movement you make? I’m going to guess no. And I’m going to guess it actually makes you really irritable, too.

Well, guess what? Your kid feels the same way. And everyone else at the table.

Don’t be a Dinner Dictator!

Relax and give your child the freedom to experience their dinner at their own pace while you talk about your days, laugh, and have a good time. Dinner can turn from feeling like a chore to a valued part of your day.

That’s not to say there aren’t rules – because obviously everyone needs to sit on their bottom and not stab their sibling with their fork or fling spaghetti on the ceiling. But turning down the dictoratorship will make a phenomenal impact on your meal time atmosphere.

7. No Bribery 

There are totally times where bribery works. And I’m not going to be one of those parents who tells you to never bribe your kid – that is totally your decision. But the dinner table is one of those places where I hope you would use is sparingly.

By saying “I will give you an amazing dessert if you eat your dinner!” what you are actually teaching your kids is that the dinner you are serving is icky, gross, gag-worthy, and the only way they can choke it down is the thought of having a cookie at the end.

Instead try offering up something to dip that chicken into, taking family bites (Our favorite is “Everyone take a bite of chicken! Ready? 1 -2 -3!” Peer pressure is awesome…).

8. Get Them Involved

One of the absolute best things you can do is to get your kids involved in their meals. Give them some ownership of what they eat, and you will be astounded by what they do with it.

Growing a garden with your kids is one of my favorite ways to do this, but also having them help you pick out new recipes to try, picking out the produce at the grocery store, and assisting you in preparing dinner will not only give them a sense of pride in helping you, but it will also help foster responsibility, curiosity, and enjoyment in what they are doing.

Eating should be an adventure – try new things, and have fun! 

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21 Responses to 8 Tips for Raising Adventurous Eaters

  1. Mira January 27, 2017 at 5:36 pm #

    Yes, I agree, just keep trying same food at different times because you never know when they’re going to be in the mood to try it (and fall in love with it). Great article!

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

      Exactly! You just never know, so keep trying!

  2. Jen January 27, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks for the great tips! I love the idea of doing a family bite- I will definitely be using that one!!

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm #

      We love the family bite – because then everyone is trying it at the same time, and no one feels singled out.

  3. Cheryl - Pook's Pantry January 27, 2017 at 6:03 pm #

    This is good advice for picky adults too! 🙂

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:04 pm #

      LOL YES! 🙂

  4. Jessica January 27, 2017 at 7:28 pm #

    I think it’s time we implement this in our home! Thank you for the advice & guidance!

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:05 pm #

      You are welcome, and good luck! Let me know if you have any other questions, I would love to help!

  5. Laura January 27, 2017 at 8:00 pm #

    Such great reminders! We didn’t realize how easy we had it with our first child, now our second child is a sparatic eater. What he loved last week is fit worthy tonight… Thanks for the reminder to stay the course and keep trying new things, he LOVED the stir fry I made last night! Shocker!

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

      Yes – and some of that is totally exertions of their tiny independence, too! Sometimes they choose not to eat something just because they can.

  6. Renee - Kudos Kitchen January 28, 2017 at 1:56 pm #

    Hey Jenni, great tips. I wish I would have gotten my kids involved in cooking when they were young. I’m sure it would have helped out a lot when it came to trying new things.

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:07 pm #

      Its so tricky – because it makes things messier and chaotic and crazy. BUT if you can think more about the memories you are making and the good values you are instilling instead of the mess in your kitchen (and not needing the recipe to turn out perfect, either), then it really does amazing things!

  7. Lauren Gaskill January 28, 2017 at 4:09 pm #

    Congrats on being a contributor, Jenni! Love this article and your photos are beautiful, too! XOXO

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:09 pm #

      Thank you Lauren! 🙂

  8. Kathleen January 28, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

    Great advice! Love the bit about getting kids involved with meal prep!

    • jenniward January 30, 2017 at 12:15 pm #

      Its hard, because its messy, and you have to give up that “its gotta be perfect” mentality, but its soooo worth it!

  9. Andrea Cooley January 30, 2017 at 2:59 am #

    Love these tips! We are big Daniel Tiger fans in our house and often sing his song “you gotta try new things because they might taste good” 🙂

  10. Lane @ With Two Spoons January 31, 2017 at 5:23 pm #

    Love, love, love this! I agree with ALL of it. We took a different path with child #1-and we are just starting to climb out of the rut that we dug ourselves into by caving to her food whims (she’s 14). Child #2 who was given real food from the start, whatever we were eating-pureed when he didn’t have teeth, tries everything we give him. He doesn’t LOVE everything but likes most things. I agree with the previous poster also-the Daniel Tiger episode was GREAT!!!!

  11. Shelley January 31, 2017 at 8:21 pm #

    Great advice! My youngest will make a face, but will get it down. My older (10) is the dramatic gagger. *sigh*

  12. Maqhi February 4, 2017 at 8:32 pm #

    The rule when my kids were growing up was the 2 bite rule. You have to eat 2 bites of everything, then if you didn’t like it, you didn’t have to finish it. However, even if it gets served again later, the weren’t allowed to say “I don’t like that.” They still had to eat 2 bites. Often, the second time they tried it, they loved it. To this day (they are both 30 somethings), they have things they don’t like. It is OK. They tried it enough different times to know. Both love a huge variety of foods now.

  13. Jill February 9, 2017 at 1:49 am #

    Yes! Thank you for writing this! I give my 15 month old everything and have since he was six months. I’m talking this kid loves asparagus, beets, blackberries, meatloaf– you name it! People laugh when I say he loves salsa on his eggs, but I don’t care. At least I don’t have the “only Mac & Cheese kid” or have him be like I was- sliced cheese and applesauce! Thank you!

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