Variety is the spice of life. And beyond making mealtimes more exciting and pleasurable, trying new foods offers picky eaters and their families big health benefits.
Whether you have picky eaters at your table, you want to improve your family’s overall nutrition, or you simply want to enjoy the thrill of trying something new together, eating new foods is a great way to bond and support each other’s well-being.
Think You Know What Your Kids Like and Don’t Like? Think Again
When you were a kid, you probably turned your nose up at your mom’s casseroles or anything green. But today, savoring a salad might be your favorite way to refuel.
The good news is that your child can and will learn to love healthy foods. But you don’t have to wait until your child is an adult! In fact, tastes change – and more frequently than you might think.
Our tastebuds are responsible for our ability to taste (along with our olfactory nerves). Taste buds can determine how sweet, salty, sour, and bitter something tastes (and whether we like that experience or not).
How often do your taste buds change?
Tastebuds tend to be ultra-sensitive in children, which is why they may shy away from certain foods with stronger flavors. Children also have a higher concentration of sweet tastebuds to attract them to their mothers’ milk. But research shows that tastebuds change frequently – as often as every two weeks. And that means our tastes can grow and evolve quickly, too.
Why is this good news for parents? The foods your child disliked last month may be a whole new experience for them this month. Teaching them about their ever-changing taste buds can open them up to trying new foods (and old foods again).
8 Reasons Your Family Should Keep Trying New Foods
1. You’ll get more nutrients.
Eating a variety of foods helps ensure that your children are getting all the nutrients needed for healthy development. Different foods have different nutrients, so trying new foods can broaden a child’s nutritional intake and give their bodies more diverse building blocks for growth. Researchers recommended eating at least 30 different types of whole foods each week to get a good balance of different vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibers, probiotics, and other nutrients.
2. You’ll develop your child’s palate.
As it turns outs, a willingness to try new foods is a skill you and your little ones can build. Studies show that children who are exposed to a variety of flavors early on are more likely to develop a taste for a wider range of foods as they grow older. This can help the whole family enjoy a more diverse and healthy diet in the long run.
3. You’ll improve your gut health.
Eating healthy is not just about avoiding junk food. It’s also about giving your family a rich and diverse diet. Studies show that people who consume a wide variety of different foods have more varied gut bacteria and a balanced microbiome. The healthier your microbiome, the better your digestion, nutrient absorption, immune health, mood balance, hormone balance, and overall health.
4. You’ll boost your immune system.
Did you know that 70% of your immune system resides in the gut? That’s why it’s essential that we have a robust microbiome to help support and bolster our tiny fighting armies. Studies show that those with diverse microbiomes are more likely to fend off illnesses and avoid chronic diseases throughout life. Feeding your children a wide variety of foods helps them grow this gut microbiome and strengthen their immune systems from the root.
5. You’ll enjoy better moods.
Along with immune health, brain and nervous system health are also closely tied to the gut. The less diverse our gut flora, the more likely we are to fall into “grumpy gut syndrome” with patterns of stress, depression, and anxiety. On the flip side, eating a varied diet helps to promote good moods. Diverse types of gut bacteria are necessary to produce the neurochemicals (like serotonin) that help us learn, create memories, and feel at ease. Not to mention, new experiences are linked to surges in the feel-good chemical, dopamine, which can ease anxiety and reduce stress.
6. You’ll develop your child’s culinary curiosity.
Cooking at home is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet. Exposure to new foods and simple cooking exercises helps kids build confidence and curiosity in the kitchen that will last them a lifetime. Try experimenting with new ingredients and recipes to help your child develop a lifelong passion for cooking for themselves.
7. You’ll turn mealtime into quality family time.
Relying on the same go-to cereals and quick weeknight meals may make grocery shopping simpler. But too simple a diet could lead to missing out on key nutrients your family needs to thrive. By pledging to try new foods regularly, you’ll breathe new life into your mealtimes and have fun quality time discussing your new food “tastings.”
8. You’ll develop cultural awareness.
Beyond trying new foods in your local area, experiment with ingredients and recipes from other cultures. Trying these new foods can encourage children to get curious about how other cultures eat, what types of climates they live in, and how they celebrate through food. This helps them appreciate different cultural backgrounds and develop respect for global food practices. You may even find a new family tradition of your own!
3 Ways to Win Over Picky Eaters
Do you have picky eaters at your table? No problem. The goal of trying new foods is to expand your family’s palate and offer a variety of nutrients in small, achievable, fun ways. Here are a few ways you can win over picky eaters and get them excited about new foods:
1. Let them choose each week’s new food.
Children are more likely to enjoy trying new foods if they feel they have some power in the decision-making process. Make a weekly trip to the grocery store feel like an expedition with your kids at the helm.
Even better, give them prompts to encourage learning and keep things varied, such as “find a new purple food to try” or “find a new food that’s round.” For older kids, consider tying your new weekly food to something they are learning in school (such as kalamata olives when learning about ancient Greek history, or collard greens while reading To Kill a Mockingbird).
2. Keep a “New Food Log.”
Adding new foods to a running food log helps children relish in their tasting achievements. Use a journal or posterboard to track each new food, what you cooked with it, and each family member’s reaction or “rating” for the food. Remind them that they don’t have to love each new food – the goal is to try it and give their tastebuds a “workout.” Decorating the food log and using stickers can make it even more fun for little chefs.
3. Get kids involved in the cooking.
Just as picking the new food helps build ownership in the activity, helping prepare the food can also make kids more invested in the process. Give your child easy and safe tasks to work with the new food; allow them to wash, trim, stir, and taste-test along the way.