How Children Learn to Like New Food

For a young child learning to eat, all foods are new, even those that are very familiar to you.

Eating new food is a skill that children learn gradually

It generally takes children time and repeated neutral exposure to learn to eat new food. Neutral exposure is matter-of-factly including the food in family meals and enjoying it yourself without applying outside pressure of any kind.

How do children learn?

To learn to eat new food, children watch us eat. They look, touch, taste and spit out (keep the napkins handy). Your child will warm up slowly to unfamiliar foods and may have to be presented with a food 15 or 20 or dozens of times - in as many meals - before he learns to eat it. With very tasty foods, however, they do one-trial learning. High-sugar foods such as cookies and candy are easy to eat. So are high-fat foods such as French fries and chicken nuggets. Develop strategies for using high fat, high sugar foods

Expect up-and-down eating

Even after your child learns to like a food, he won’t eat it every time it is at the meal. He may eat a lot one day, little the next. He is unlikely to eat some of everything from the meal, but only one or two foods.

You can help your child learn to eat new food

  • Plan family-friendly meals, and let your child pick and choose from what is on the table.
  • Don't limit the menu to foods your child readily accepts, but do have his favorites occasionally. Sometimes he gets lucky, sometimes someone else does.
  • Let your child have seconds and thirds on what he likes, even if he ignores the rest - provided he is not eating someone else's share.
  • Don't arrange to run out of his favorite foods in order to trick him into eating something you want him to eat.

For more about helping children learn to do well with eating (and for research backing up this advice), see Ellyn Satter's Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How to Eat, How to Raise Good Eaters, How to Cook, Kelcy Press, 2008. Also see to purchase books and to review comprehensive educational materials that teach stage-related feeding and solve feeding problems.

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