“My child ate everything until he turned 2.” Sound familiar?
It should. Researchers believe that the willingness to eat a variety of food develops in infancy and peaks around the age of 2 of 2 ½. After that it decreases (slightly) until around the age of 8 when the willingness to eat a wider range of foods starts to increase again.
It may be tempting to give in to your child’s demands to eat the same foods over and over, but don’t give in. Diversity can have a lasting effect.
There is mounting evidence that 2-3 year old kids who eat a wide variety of foods are more likely to turn into adults who eat a wide variety of foods compared to kids whose early diets are more monotonous. Habit, habit, habit.
The variety “effect” can be achieved in many ways.
Consider the taste, texture and appearance of the foods you feed. Many parents think they’re feeding their kids a varied diet, but if everything is sweet, or salty or crunchy, then they’re not. (See The Variety Masquerade.)
- how much variety you offer during any one meal.
- how much variety you offer from meal to meal or from snack to snack.
- the variety of foods you offer over the course of a few days.
Below are 10 easy tips for getting more variety into your kids' diets.
"But my kids won't eat it."
1) Variety doesn’t have to mean, “new.” You can increase the variety in your children’s diets by cycling through the foods they currently eat. You may have to “borrow” from other snacks and meals but there’s no rule that says you can’t give your children carrot sticks and hummus for breakfast. They may even like it! Increasing variety among the "tried and true" foods will help your child learn to accept new foods.
2) Introducing new foods can be a challenge, but it can be done. Remember this, though, while repeated exposure to food can Turn Your Kids’ Taste Buds Around, most mothers offer a new food fewer than 5 times before they quit. This simply isn’t enough exposure for an infant or child to learn to like it.
3) Ask your kids to taste, not to eat, new foods. Then, instead of asking if they liked it, ask them to describe the food: what did it taste like, what was its texture and smell, what other foods did it seem like? (See Look Into My Crystal Ball for more on this.)
"But my kids won't eat it and I hate wasting food."
4) Put less food on your children’s plates. That way if they don’t eat more than a bite you won’t be throwing much food out. Small portions make it easier for some kids to dig in. (See When Less is More.)
5) Add variety with food your kids like so they won't throw it out. (See point #1 above.)
"My kids won't eat it and it makes me angry when they turn their noses up at something I've spent time preparing."
6) Prepare foods that other family members like. That way you won’t waste time cooking food that doesn’t get eaten.
7) Increase variety by using foods prepared by someone else. Go to the deli counter and ask to sample some stuff or buy the smallest amount the shopkeeper will sell you.
"I want it to be easy."
8) Keep a selection of foods prepped in the refrigerator in small bowls. Pull out 3 or 4 bowls at meal and snack time and ask your children to select what they like. Vary the bowls you pull out during each day and over the course of a handful of days. You can use leftovers, raw fruits and vegetables, cereals, dips, dried fruits, nuts…
9) Give your children different versions of the foods they already like. If they love applesauce, buy it in other flavors; if they love pasta switch up the sauce, the noodle shape and/or the color.
10) Feed your children tomorrow the food you eat today. If you cook separate meals for adults, set some of the food aside and give small portions of it to your kids with their meals and snacks. Cook once, serve twice.
Remember, the more variety you introduce, the easier variety gets.
It’s circular logic but the more your kids get in the habit of eating different foods, the more easily they’ll accept different foods. Similarly, the more accustomed they are to eating the same stuff, the more that’s what they’ll demand. It's all about habits.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~
Source: Nicklaus, S. 2009. “Development of Food Variety in Children.” Appetite 52: 253-55.