How to Teach Your Children to Appreciate All Foods
Dr. Kristi Smith, D.Ed., M.Ed.   •   March 21, 2024

Getting children to love all foods has been a mystery to me through my parenting, teaching, and now grand parenting years. My first child spoiled me by eating EVERYTHING! For a foodie family, having nutritious and diverse foods was important. But then came our daughter. Our family didn’t do anything different in our cooking and eating habits, so we were shocked when she was a picky eater. As a preschool educator committed to the healthy growth and development of young children, this was one of my earliest lessons regarding how each child has their own genetic disposition. I quickly learned that it takes some creativity when it comes to teaching children to appreciate all foods. You notice I said “appreciate,” not“love.” 

At Children’s LighthouseEarly Learning Schools, we understand that children come to us with various culinary palates. Health and nutrition are two of our educational themes during the month of March in our Lighthouse CARES® curriculum. Our job is to help children appreciate all foods and the nutrition they supply to our bodies.

Food is not just nourishment for the body; it can be an exploration of culture, tradition, and taste. Instilling a love for diverse foods in children sets the stage for a lifetime of culinary adventure and appreciation. While picky eating tendencies are common among children, fostering an open-minded approach to food can be achieved through a few simple strategies. 

Lead by Example: Children are keen observers who mimic their parents' behaviors. If they see you enjoying various foods, they're more likely to follow suit. Embrace new flavors and cuisines yourself, and make mealtime a shared experience where everyone can try new things together.

Get Them Involved: Inviting your children into the kitchen not only teaches them valuable cooking skills but also gives them a sense of ownership over what they eat. Let them help with meal prep, from washing vegetables to stirring pots on the stove. When kids are involved in the cooking process, they're more likely to be curious about the final product and eager to taste their creations.

Make Food Fun: Turn mealtime into an adventure by introducing themed dinners or hosting a "taste test" where everyone can sample different foods and vote for their favorites. Get creative with food presentation, using colorful ingredients to make dishes visually appealing. By making food enjoyable and exciting, you'll pique your children's curiosity and encourage them to try new things.

Start Early: Introducing a variety of flavors and textures to your child's palate from a young age can help prevent picky eating habits from developing. Offer a diverse range of foods during infancy and early childhood, including fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins from different cultural backgrounds. Exposure to foods without forcing a child to eat is key to expanding your child's food preferences. Teach your child to take one “polite bite” when served food. Sharing that a “polite bite” is a way to thank the person who prepared the food, and it give them the opportunity to see if they like something prepared in different ways.

Be Patient and Persistent: It's normal for children to be hesitant about trying new foods, and they may need repeated exposure before they develop a taste for them. Avoid pressuring or bribing them to eat, as this can create negative associations with food. Instead, encourage them gently and model positive eating behaviors. Over time, their tastes may evolve, and they may surprise you with their newfound culinary preferences.

Celebrate Diversity: Use mealtime as an opportunity to learn about different cultures and cuisines from around the world. Explore ethnic restaurants, cookbooks, and online resources together, and encourage your children to ask questions and express curiosity about unfamiliar foods. By embracing diversity in food, you're teaching your family to appreciate the richness of global culinary traditions.

Be Flexible: While it's important to encourage your child to try new foods, it's also essential to respect their individual preferences and dietary restrictions. Offer a variety of options at mealtime, including familiar favorites alongside new dishes, and allow them to choose what they want to eat. By giving them some control over their food choices, you're empowering them to develop a healthy relationship with food. It is important to note that being “food flexible” does not mean you should prepare separate or custom meals for your child. Balance is key.

Stay Positive: Above all, maintain a positive attitude towards food and eating. Avoid using negative language or making disparaging comments about certain foods, as this can influence your children's attitudes towards them. Instead, focus on the delicious and nutritious aspects of different foods, and celebrate small victories when your children try something new.

Teaching your child to love all foods is a journey that requires patience, persistence, and a sense of adventure. By leading by example, involving them in the cooking process, making food fun, starting early, celebrating diversity, being flexible, and staying positive, you can help cultivate a lifelong appreciation for the diverse flavors and cuisines that the world has to offer. Don’t forget to teach “polite bites” in the process. Here’s to raising a generation of adventurous eaters who embrace food with curiosity, enthusiasm, and an open mind! Cheers!

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