If you are stressed about your child not eating certain foods, like vegetables, or by an overall monotonous diet, it is time to turn to taste-tests for help. If your child is picky, meaning her food preferences change all the time, taste tests can be a fun way to increase her exposure to less liked foods. If your child is neophobic, meaning having fear of novel foods, taste tests can relieve the stress associated with tasting new food.
This little activity was inspired by a study published in Appetite, where a group of parents was instructed to increase their children’s exposure to less liked vegetables using regular taste-tests and charts. As a result of the experiment, the children showed better liking of the vegetable. Inspired by the promising results of the study, we gave taste-tests a try and never regretted it!
Here is how we do it in our family:
1. We fill a small muffin tray with a 4-5 types of food. It does not have to be only vegetables. We combine the food my children already like with less favorite and/or new foods. Here are some examples of what I place on the tray:
- sliced apples or any other fruit
- smoked salmon
- edamame or green peas
- carrots or any other vegetable, raw or lightly steamed
- crackers, new or familiar
- lettuce or spinach
- feta cheese or any other cheese
- edamame, fresh or dried
- any nuts
- dips, such as olive oil, hummus or ranch dressing
2/ We serve the tray for snack or as an appetizer before meals and, taste everything together and get the kids to rate the foods on a chart. Our 4 year old “votes” using stickers with smiley or sad faces while the 7 year old either draws faces herself or uses a sliding grade from 1 to 5. The chart looks like this:
3/ As we taste the food, we describe it using all our senses. Instead of “yucky” or “yummy”, we encourage the kids to talk about the color, texture, temperature and flavor of the foods they are trying, especially the less familiar ones.
4/ We repeat the process a few times a week or as many times as we have time and energy for. Sometimes we add new foods to the chart and just draw an additional row below.
5/ After a couple of weeks, we look at the chart together and make observations about the likes and dislikes. More often than not, the kids can see how the same foods rate high on some days and low on others. This typically sparks a conversation about how important it is to always try foods before saying “no” because we change our likes and dislikes as we grow. Quite often the kids find one or two new favorites and I can safely incorporate a new item or two into the weekly meal plan.
This little game helped my children try a bunch of new foods. An opportunity to vote on the food was a big enticing factor of course but they are also looking forward to seeing a colorful tray of food with a few “surprises” in it. It is a fun activity for a whole family that kills a few birds with one stone. First, it makes everyone relax and forget about dinnertime battles. Second, it provides repeated exposure to foods that kids need to learn to like them. And finally, since you are going to taste the food first, it is a perfect way to role model eating the foods that may be still challenging for your kids.
Did you try this technique? Did it work for you?
Wardle J, et al. Increasing children’s acceptance of vegetables; a randomized trial of parent-led exposure. Appetite. 2002; 40: 155-162