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Introducing Kids To A Variety Of Foods Helps Later In Life

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Whenever my extended family is around my house at mealtime, they are always joking about the foods I serve my daughter. While most 2-year olds are eating chicken fingers and French fries for lunch, a grilled cheese with black beans and edamame is more typical for her. I've tried to introduce her to a wide variety of foods (particularly vegetables) so that she learns to enjoy them. So far, it's been working.

Although there are certain foods she doesn't like (despite my repeated attempts to get her to eat them), there are foods she eats now that she didn't like the first few times we tried. Researchers have found that it can take 8 to 15 attempts before children will accept certain foods as part of their diet. Speaking from experience, it takes a lot of patience to unsuccessfully offer foods that many times. When you're rushing to get dinner on the table, it's much easier to go with something you know your family will eat, versus having to listen to complaining kids who won't take a bite of their meal. But in the end, the struggle might be worth it.

Research from the Monell Chemical Senses Center (a non-profit research institute in Philadelphia) shows that what kids are willing to eat at age 9 is directly related to what they were eating at age 2. They have found that "A taste for salt develops at about 4 months of age, but acquiring a taste for bitter foods, such as spinach and broccoli, requires repeated exposure." Preferences begin to develop even earlier than this, as babies learn to like certain food tastes through the breastmilk of their mothers.

Some restaurants are even jumping on the bandwagon, expanding their kids' menus to include a wider variety of healthy options. Parents of young children know there are a few standard items on most kids' menus, and usually not much else: grilled cheese, hamburgers, chicken fingers and maybe, if you're lucky, spaghetti and meatballs. Then the meal usually comes with fries and a soda.

Most of those options are frustrating to me. So I find myself ordering something healthy I know my daughter will eat and splitting it with her instead. That way she's exposed to a wider variety of foods, instead of learning the two different ways to cook a grilled cheese each time we go out to eat. I can't say that many restaurants where I live are expanding their menu options, but it's nice to know that trend might reach my area at some point.

Do you (or did you) try to offer your children a wide variety of foods throughout life? Do you think it has made a difference in their food choices or taste preferences? How do you (or did you) handle eating out with young kids while still trying to be healthy?

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I have a 1 yr old and a 12 yr old and both eat pretty well. My older daughter went through a picky stage and still has some oddities, some of which I hope to combat with my baby. We have exposed the baby to all sorts of foods and flavors. One of her current favorites is quinoa or couscous with spinach and feta mixed in. Love it! I make it as a lunch for us some days because it is quick and easy and yummy and relatively nutritious Report
Thank you for giving my daughter and I hope. Her daughter is finally starting to like things such as broccoli, she calls it trees, after repeated tries. I never knew that it took 8 - 15 tries. We are still working on other vegetables. Report
I feel extremely blessed. Both my daughters 11 and 8 are good and adventurous eaters. I grew up with limited snack foods and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables available. My children are the same way, they eat almost any vegetable or fruit. But they have developed their own preferences too, my eldest does not like red peppers, which I love and put in lots of food. We have also lived overseas for most of their childhood and they are constantly exposed to the unusual. They loved the piranha, but not the cuy and the really like most types of fish including octopus. They are proud to be risk-takers when it comes to food and I'm only too happy that they are not picky eaters. Was it my doing or genetics, I don't know, I just feel blessed. Report
My son is blind and has PDD and as a toddler was very picky about food and textures were a big deal. We still dealt with the texture thing when he was 8. Now at 14 he will eat anything except bananas and is always asking for food he hears about from other people.Now it's him saying to us, how do you know you don't like it if you don't try it. Reexposure to food takes time but it can work. Report
My mom exposed me to a lot of foods, which I'm so grateful for. I am the least picky eater I know, which makes it so much easier to eat healthily. I don't have kids myself, but I watch the way my cousins have/have not exposed their kids to different foods, and the way it has affected their diets. Two of my cousins have 8 year old daughters. One's favorite foods are eggplant and steamed calamari and the other lives on chicken nuggets, fries, and refuses anything green. We'll see who's healthier later in life... Report
I am a very picky eater, but I didn't want my kids to be that way. I have a 2 year old and a 5 year old that will eat (or at least try) whatever I put in front of them. My 2 year old son LOVES broccoli, bananas and tomatoes - I don't know many 2 year olds that would get excited to see broccoli in the grocery store and ask to buy some. My daughter loves squash and beets - neither of which I can stand. I thank God I have 2 great kids that aren't picky like me. They inspire me to eat better - now if I could just get rid of my chocolate cravings... Report
It is most important to keep on trying. I love all types of food and flavours, despite my mother's cooking, or perhaps because of it. However, to this day, my son, who will eat almost anything, still will not eat chunky tomatoes, although he eats marinara sauce and salsa. He could eat with chopsticks by the time he was three and could order his favourite dim sum dumplings by name. Report
I think when you eat healthy food in your childhood you ger accustomed to its taste and quality and hence you're less inclined to unhealthy food later when grow adult since its taste is felt as strange and untasty. It's not what you're accustomed to.

My father grew up during the WWII when they leave in poverty and couldn't afford coffe. And now at his 80s when he can afford any food he still thinks that chicory "coffe" is the tastiest dring on the earth. Report
My daughter and son-in-law, as well as myself, have a mealtime strategy that when introduced to a new food you have to try at least one bite. If you don't like it you do NOT have to eat it but a least try it. I also used this with my own children. My daughter is really picky but my two sons on the other hand love to try new foods and one son even experiments with different food combinations (he takes after his Dad). One granddaughter will try anything and loves to cook and the other is picky like her Mom and will try things but usually says "I don't like it!" That's fine so... we'll try it again in about 6 mos. I LOVE to try new foods which lately has made me love grocery shopping. Report
I have the three bite rule. New foods require three bites. My 6 y/o son has learned to love kale, red peppers, snow peas, spouts, tofu and many other foods with this rule. I am thrilled when he "begs" for "at home make your own stir fry nites" ala Table Top Grill. Report
The rule at my house was that a tablespoon (teaspoon when just starting to eat solids) from each dish on the table went on every plate. After that was consumed, as many seconds as anyone could eat were fine. But no desert if seconds were left on the plate. As a result, my five children grew up with adventurous taste buds which they have passed onto their children.
And it's great fun to see the face of the waiter when the three year old asks for escargotes or steak tatar. Report
When I became pregnant, one of my first concerns was: I'm fat. My entire family is fat. Which, to me, nothing to be ashamed of, but I didn't want it for my son, who is now 20. So, I did my homework and came up with a plan:
I breastfed, made my own baby food, limited his access to salt, sugar and artificial flavors; and provided him with a variety of fruits and vegetables. And, most importantly, I didn't make him "clean his plate" or make a big deal when he didn't like something.

Also, when he got older, I never restricted what he could eat...not that I wouldn't SUGGEST he not get the triple bacon cheeseburger in favor of the grilled chicken.

And in doing so, I have a child who eats pretty healthily and who will try anything and loves things his peers have never tried.

A funny example is when he was in Spanish class, his teacher made guacamole for the class. Several of his classmates had never tried avocados. While, Aaron first had them when he was 4 months old! it was one of his first foods. Report
Being from a Hispanic family my girls always had a wide selection of foods, fruit and veggies and now my grandkids have the same open mind to try different foods because of their moms. I think it's great ! Report
Hopefully, they will at least try the veggies. Report
I have 2 grown up and one 12 year old that always ate what we were having, if they didn't want anything I asked that they at least tried it, if it was something they had tried before I told them that as they are growing up their taste buds are grrowing up too and it will taste different in a short while. A small fib but it worked. I also didn't make mealtimes a battlefield, if they had tasted and didn't like they were allowed to leave it. I now have 3 kids who will eat practically anything and in a sensibly balanced way. A bit different from my youth, where were were forced to eat more than we wanted because 'we shouldn't waste food', 'think of the starving kids in *******' and outright psychological damage of the 'Ispent hours cooking this and you dare to turn your nose up at it'. Its no wonder I am fat, food and guilt are the opposite sides of a see-saw. The only food the eldest doesn't like is bell peppers and mushrooms, the youngest hates broccolli and the middle one is a white meat only eater because she is an international competitor and needs to watch her food very carefully. Tonight the youngest ate mashed potato's, peas, carrot and green beans. Report
I know this. I've always known this and I have applied it to feeding my now (almost) 7 and (almost) 6 year olds since they were babies. I think they eat better than many kids, but not as well as I want. There is still some whining at the dinner table at old and new things. I want to cook couscous and artichockes, but they wont eat it when I do and it's hard to think about trying them with new things when I'm trying to get meals on the table. My younger son's tastes seem to be actually narrowing as he gets older. They have always been good about fruits and vegetables, but lately he decided he doesn't like bananas. Last night he threw a fit about having beef stoup (thick, rich soup) for dinner, even though we've always had it. Meanwhile I'm still grateful because he hates anything sweet - no ice cream, no cake, no donuts, no sweets. Report
I had my son eat well at 1 yo ,but when 2 came around,his sweet tooth developed from mine because I could no longer hide it from him. He does eat raw broccoli dipped w/ ranch dressing and celery because I like them. And now since I've improved my eating habits as well as dappling into the wealth of sparkrecipes, he's eating better,too. My hubby is s-l-o-w-l-y making the changes,too because of the changes he's seen in me in such a short time. Report
When my son was young, we spent lots of time shopping, cooking and eating healthy. I was an at home Daycare Provider and I had 8 kids all under the age of 5. I taught all the kids healthy ideas and served only the healthiest snacks and meals possible. We ate lots of raw, fresh veggies and fruits, yogurt, peanut butter, whole grain breads and crackers, and lots of soy milk!! It is the best time to get kids to eat something that they wouldn't otherwise eat at home cause the kid sitting next to them is eating the same thing an likes it!! It worked out great!! Report
Although my children are now grown (in their 30's), we made an effort to introduce them earlier on to a variety of foods, mostly for cultural reasons. We had lived overseas and wanted our kids to feel like they could go any place and find something good to eat. They each went through times when they were picky eaters, but now they will enthusiastically eat somethings I won't touch until they shamed me into it... oyster and sushi! Report
I liked this blog and all of the sharing. I think my partner is the picture of what happens when kids aren't fed a variety of food growing up. She eats NO fruit or vegetables unless I "hide" them in our food somehow. She won't try anything new - ever. And if she sees something in the food she suspects is a vegetable, she throws a fit and often won't eat. She's 42 now, and even though her diet is catching up with her, she still refuses to try anything new or change at all. It's frustrating. Report
My mother never made eat anything we didn't like, but we always had to try a bite. "But i didn't like that last time!" i would protest. "Doesn't matter. Taste buds change. Just try it," she would respond. And she's right - taste buds DO change. Keep trying new foods or even old ones in new ways, even as adults. It's good for us! Report
I have 2 kids that are 6 years apart. The first ate lots of meat and not enough vegetables. The other I insited he ate what we were eating at meal times. He did not like meat most of the time and ate his potatoes and veggies. I can get him to eat most vegetable now that he is a teen. My daughter is still picking on vegetables. Eat very few. Report
I make a variety of vegetables especially and although my daughter is picky and doesn't like some of them she still eats them to try it. There have been a few surprises that she ended up liking. I think it's good to expand their horizon on food so they can experience all different types of food. Report
When my 1st son was little and we would go to a restaurant of some type we would offer him some of our salad, etc. To this day he loves salad and really doesn't have many issues with trying new foods, etc. He has certain likes and dislikes but he's not overly picky. We didn't push him - we just left it as an option for him to try the things that we were eating and encouraged him if he showed an interest in a food. Our other 2 are a little more picky but not overly - and we encouraged them too to try different foods. They've developed their tastes over the years but we didn't limit them and encouraged them when they showed an interest in a certain food. I don't think that pushing a food on anyone -especially a child- is healthy and too much emphasis on food isn't good either. They're teenagers now and over the years their tastes have changed as my tastes have changed - And I'm sure that their tastes will continue to change along with their life experiences. Report
Im not a mother, but my mother made sure we learned to like our fruits and veggies and my sis and I were the few in school that wanted the apple or bananas instead of the oatmeal pies or cookies. As an adult, I still eat that way. Even when I watch others kids, the parents are shocked that I could get them to eat trees (broccoli) and carrots and cauliflower even salads. the parents say they never see their kids eat that stuff. Oddly enough, they dont buy the stuff, so the kids dont want or know it. Report
When my daughter was 2 she started day care so I could go back to school. I got a call from day care. Miss Victorine couldn't decide whether she was more shocked that my girl had brought pickled herring for lunch - or that she had eaten it. I said it was one of her faves, and asked whether that would be a problem. Miss Victorine replied that no, she was just surprised to see a white kid eating something besides a Lunchable or chicken nuggets for lunch.

My son came home devastated from Kindergarten one day. A class party had been planned, and the teacher had solicited ideas for party foods. My son requested "salad" and was laughed at. Only one person voted for salad - him.


I ignored the advice to avoid strong flavors or spicy food while nursing. Of course the babies noticed when I ate certain things, and they weren't always happy. But hunger always won out, and eventually they adapted. As they moved to solid foods I did not do the baby food thing. They ate whatever I was eating, pureed when necessary. The only mod I'd make would be to tone down - but not eliminate - spiciness. Later on, they ate what was served. If they preferred not to eat something, that was fine, but they did have to try it, and they weren't getting something else in its stead. Healthy kids won't die if they miss part of a meal - or the whole meal. Simple rules:
* Take at least one bite of everything
* Once everyone has served themselves, you may have more of whatever you like
* You eat what you take. If not at this meal, a subsequent one.

FWIW, they've both grown up with wide-ranging interest in foods, and with a taste for the healthy. Report
I definately gave my kids healthier foods when they were younger. As a young teen, one of them will choose raw veges over some greasy foods, and none of us ever touch a french fry unless it's really fresh and something special. I also feel that childrens eating habits are also learned from the example the parent sets. If I eat well and look happy doing it, my kids will accept this as normal and incorperate it into their habits easier. Report
I was a fairly picky eater as a child, and we certainly didn't have access to a big variety of fresh veggies. But now I like a wide variety of foods - lots of different ethnic cuisines with strong flavors, a wide variety of fruits and veggies. So when i start to despair that my kids aren't eating 'exotic' fare (such as black beans and edamame for lunch), I try to remember that my tastes changed, and hold on to hope that theirs will too. For now, we provide access to healthy choices, but let them decide what to eat. Report
In our family, we all eat the same things, at meal times. I usually try to be thoughtful so every one has something to like on their plate. Some may not like something, but they are taught to try a little because they are training their palette. Some kids prefer an item cooked and others raw. Sunday night was the exception, that was the night that you could enjoy your favorites. Friday night were always pizza,(sometime bought, sometimes homemade). Eating out was a treat , not the norm. As my older ones grew and left home they are getting to be good cooks and are comfortable in the kitchen. When my now-Son-in-law came on the scene, my daughter would have him try things out of our fridge. Before they got married, leftovers were never a problem, he would clean me out over the weekend. You are never too old to learn new tastes. Report
My kids will eat all kinds of food as along as they try it and see if they will like it..
i started my kids eating fruits and veggies and they love them all Report
When my husband and I take the kids out to eat we have just 1 rule. They pick the main course no matter what, but we pick the sides and beverages for them. Most of the time it's me that picks them though and i usually get milk or juice for beverages and for sides it's always a vegetable and/or fruit and the kids always drink/eat whatever we pick because they got to choose at least the main course. As far as exposing them to new foods, I make 1 new recipe a week that we've never had that includes something new we have never eaten or something that we have not had in a while. It always goes over well in our home. Report
My mom and dad never forced me to eat anything but they did insist that I at least try it. As a result, there really isn't any food that I don't eat. Prepared properly, all types of food can be quite appealing and tasty. I in turn have taken the same approach with my kids and they now eat a wide variety of foods. Report
I liked this blog,thanks! Report
My kids are much older now, but when they were little, I tried to substitute rice for fries at places like Denny's. I would also add veggies. I have changed my entire eating regime as time progressed, but ultimately the kids were always given a healthier choice when available. Report
I offer my son whatever we are having for dinner. He likes broccoli and many other vegetables, however, sometimes one day he will eat something, and the next he won't. I just always offer him whatever we are eating, and it seems to work!! He also loves salad, especially lettuce and cherry tomatoes!! Report
over here in Germany we don't those "kids menues" so much, so we normally order a small main dish or split with the kids. Report
I don't like many veggies myself (because of not being offered them as a child, I'm sure- because I like the same things as my Mom), so as an adult, a parent, and the wife of a man who does like lots of veggies, I do try to feed my kids a variety. I will try several times, several preparations for each thing, and I even find that I am enjoying some veggies that I had never tried or accepted before. :) Report
With all my children, when they were in the early months being introduced to foods - I gave them EVERYTHING - even things that I personally did NOT like (canned spinach - I will only eat fresh and squash yuck)
My youngest son LOVES squash and sweet potatoes - 2 foods noone else in the family likes.

And I definetly agree with the 8-15 times thing - as my new baby did NOT like eggs - anytime I gave them to him he'd spit them out... but after many tries (not sure how many though) he did finally learn to like them - he's now 17 months and LOVES eggs...

Same type stories for all 4 of my children. Report
It's been many years since my children were young at home. We had a garden, canned, etc and not much money so they ate what I served. The only problem I remember is the milk getting spilled. Great article. We rarely ate out but I do remember my parents taking us out and insisting if they ordered it they better eat it. Report
While my kids, 14 and 11 now, have their opinions on what is served (one likes raw spinach over cooked and the other of course likes her's cooked over raw) they usually eat what is served. Again we never made seperate meals for the kids when they were small so it hasn't been an issue. They love oatmeal for breakfast and I have one hooked on Cream of Wheat as well. On occasion I will buy them the kiddie cereals but for the most part these go stale and they fight over who gets the last bowl of Cheerios. I also have one of the few kids I know of that will argue over who had more of the cherry tomatoes.

I think it is important to introduce kids to veggies and fruits as soon as possible into their diets. From experience I know kids seem to enjoy anything sugary or salty more than bitter but I have kids who love broccoli, spinach and will even eat sauteed zucchini with garlic. This blog however has made me realize that maybe on some foods I shouldn't have given up so soon on, never realized it could take up to 15 exposures for a child to accept it. Report
My kids actually do a very good job of trying things that they have never had. They also love to eat salad! I was shocked the first time my son was angry that I did not make him a salad like his dad and I had. My daughter now asks for a salad as well and she is 2.5! Report
I don't know if we just got lucky and received a kiddo who had a adventurous palate or if it's because we have always eaten a variety of food and never prepared a separate kid meal. I remember when she was about 3, we had dinner with some friends and when her plate was empty I asked if she was full or would like something else. In this clear little voice she said "I'd like some more salad." One of the kids looked shocked and said she had never heard a child say that before. I also treasure the memory of a trip to the grocery store. My kiddo was hungry and asked if I had anything in my purse (I usually have something in there). Another mom and her kids were doing the same thing a few feet away. Those kids got some kind of candy bar masquerading as a granola bar. My kiddo was delighted with what I found in my purse but got some strange looks as she hopped around saying "Yah! Seaweed!"
I know what I did doesn't work for everyone, but if I fixed it, they ate it. If they didn't eat it then, they ate it later - especially if they had served themselves. Never a fight about it, just matter of fact. That was probably one of the keys - it wasn't a power struggle or a fight - just the way it was and that was it. As a result, they usually don't take more food than they will eat, and they will eat just about anything at least once.
Eating out - since most restaurant meals are big enough for more than one person, when they were little a single meal was often split 3 ways. As they got older, it became 2 meals split 3 ways. My daughter and I frequently still split meals. They never wanted to order off the kids menu because the 'good stuff' was on the regular menu! Report
I find that the BEST way to get my 18 month old to try something new isto NOT give it to him, but eat it with GREAT enjoyment in front of him! He'll ask for it every time! Report
We eat a wide variety of foods and that's what we fed our two kids. I NEVER made anything special for them. Fast food was a rarity. As adults, both still eat a wide variety of different foods.

My SIL has kids a little younger who would only eat chicken macnuggets and boxed mac and cheese. As college students, that's still all they eat.

When my children started eating finger foods they started eating vegetables, first cooked and then raw thanks to grandparents with a large garden. My children even brought home vegetables I had not heard of..collirabi, not sure of the spelling. We never really had sweets but had lots of fruits and vegetables. And they are 18 & 21 now and still eat more fruits and vegetables than sweets! Report
My kids are required to take three bites of a new food. If they don't like it, no big deal, but they always try it the next time around too. My kids are such well rounded eaters and eat more varieties of food than any kids I know. In fact, my 5 year old is constantly telling us, "you need to try something new. You never know when your tastes are gonna change." Report
When I have kids I'm not going to keep any more "kid food" the house than I already do. As a nanny I was always shocked at the way parents would expect me to feed their children nothing but boxed macaroni and cheese and frozen chicken nuggets. I wonder if the cultural expectation that these are things kids "like" make us expect that these things are what kids should eat and enjoy?
I'll admit, I love a good PB&J, but I think nutrition is too important not to teach it to kids young. Report
Beginning 44 years ago, I was careful to offer my babies veggies before fruits so that they'd like their vegetables. No problem there, they're all healthy eaters who are conscious of eating right, and feeding their children right, too. Report
I'm still going through this... It can be difficult not to persuade her to or from something without a lasting (opposite) affect. I typically try to put several different things on her plate and let her choose what she wants to eat and I ask her to at least try what she says she doesn't like. Luckily, she loves salad so I've been trying to add more veggies (in very small pieces) to that. Report
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