What’s the best way to introduce my fussy eater to new and different foods?

girl pulling face

The idea of presenting your fussy eater with new and different foods can be scary…  What if they complain endlessly? Start crying? Throw the food? Or have a complete and utter meltdown? BUT if you never serve them anything new or different, how will you ever be able to expand their limited diet? They can’t start eating foods that aren’t even there! 

Here’s 10 Do’s and Don’ts to minimize the stress of it and give you the best chance of success.
 
1. Present tiny amounts at first
There’s no need to go ‘cold turkey’ and present them with completely new foods and meals all in one go. This would be overwhelming – and lead to lots of wastage! Just put a tiny amount of the new food on their plate alongside their reliable foods.
 
2. Don’t present the foods in an ‘all or nothing’ way
If you put ham inside their sandwich instead of the usual cheese, they are likely to reject the whole thing. Instead put a piece of ham on the plate next to the cheese sandwich. Don’t put a pasta sauce all over their pasta – just over a small section of it. Don’t put blueberries on top of their porridge – give them a little side dish of blueberries. Don’t mix peas into the rice – put the teeniest handful of peas next to it.
 
3 . Don’t put pressure on them to eat the new foods
Ever! Not even gentle encouragement! Not even asking them to “Just try a little”. They have to eat the new food of their own accord – and not because you told them too! I can’t stress how important this is. I know the hope is that if you can just get a mouthful in them, they’ll think “You know what…this tastes good…I’m going to eat this forever!” but if that worked, you wouldn’t have a fussy eater in the first place, right?!
 
4. Respond to complaints with the ‘magic’ sentence!
If they say they don’t like or want something, say in a calm and kind voice with “That’s okay – it’s up to you if you eat it or not”. Every single time! The complaints will soon fizzle out and they will allow the foods to ‘exist’ on their plate.
 
5. Don’t remove food from their plate – But they can!
If they throw food or remove it from their plate, ignore it entirely (any reaction will nurture that behaviour by giving them attention for doing it and a feeling of power). If they ask you to remove food from their plate, just say “You can do it.”
 
6. Keep serving the foods – whether they eat them or not
Regular exposure to the new food is the first vital step to get them familiar and comfortable with it. Be patient! Don’t expect them to eat it the first time, the second time, or even the seventh time… Just keep going and don’t give up!
 
7. Let them play with it!
Any interaction with the new food at all is a positive first sign. Doesn’t matter if they lick the dip off the carrot and leave the carrot, or enjoy lining the baked beans up in a row but don’t put any in their mouth, or take a bite of toast with a new topping and spit it out. Say nothing and let them get on with it!

8. Don’t serve something again too soon!

If they surprise you by eating something new, you’ll be very tempted to serve it again very soon. Don’t! If you do, your child is likely to think! “Ah, so she noticed I ate it yesterday and she thinks I’ll eat it again today… We’ll see about that!” Leave a gap of at least 4-5 days.
 
9. Do ‘help-yourself’ meals sometimes
Put the components of the meal in the middle of the table and let them take what they want. A Lazy Suzy is great for this to make it more enticing to put new foods on their pate. Just don’t do it too often as your child can learn to ignore the foods they don’t want – and it’s important they get close-up exposure of new foods on their plate too.
 
10. Involve them in the prep
Children are more likely to eat something they feel ‘ownership’ of. Even very young children can do simple tasks like mixing a sauce, rinsing vegetables, buttering bread, tearing lettuce … But only get them to do it if they’re in the mood. Never insist! That’ll just create negative associations with those foods.

Read more about the ‘magic’ sentences to use with you child around food and mealtimes here.