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Getting Kids to Try New and Healthy Foods

by Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD

Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD

A national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, Sarah Krieger developed and is lead instructor for Fit4AllKids Weight Management and Fitness for Families program. Read more »

Sorry, Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD is no longer taking questions.

"How do I get my child to eat fruits and veggies?" "Is it okay for my child to take a vitamin supplement and then eat anything he wants?" "My child only eats five foods: chicken fingers, fries, applesauce, cereal and milk." Do any of these questions and comments sound familiar? As a registered dietitian, I hear them on a weekly basis from parents. I am amazed how many "picky eaters" I encounter. I see it from infancy through adolescence. (Actually, I meet plenty of adults, too, who eat the same foods over and over again.) So what are parents to do when their kids are reluctant to try new foods?

Children learn their habits, attitudes and beliefs from their parents and other caregivers, and that includes their willingness to try new and healthy foods. For National Nutrition Month®, the American Dietetic Association encourages parents to be good role models and teach their children how to appreciate nutrition and enjoy healthful eating.

Here is what sometimes happens: A parent introduces applesauce to baby. Baby likes it and eats the entire serving. The next week the parent offers pears. Baby tastes it, spits it out and makes a face. The parent does not force it and thinks, "Okay, baby does not like it, so I won't offer it again." So baby is only eating the applesauce.

It is true that it often takes multiple tastes of a new food before a child accepts it -- of course some foods require more offerings than others, and some foods are never accepted. The most important thing you can do is offer your children as many new foods as possible, as early in life as possible. It takes much longer to accept new foods when you are older, as you may already know. I meet 10-year-old children who have never tried a fresh pear or red pepper. I am also discouraged by the statistic showing that the number one vegetable consumed by toddlers is the fried potato.

Let's commit to changing that statistic! These tips will get you started:

  • When infants are at the stage of trying new foods, offer new foods every few days to see if there are any reactions or allergies. By the time baby is one year old, hopefully, baby has a varied diet of fruits, vegetables, grains and protein foods, including beans, tofu, soft meats and yogurt.

  • When toddlerhood (and independent eating) arrives, stick with meal times and avoid filling the child up on cheese crackers and milk, or juice before mealtime.

  • Let your child see you try new foods. Children are copycats, so if you model an interest in trying new things, there's a stronger chance that your child will too.

  • The most important tip I can give to help get kids to taste new foods is to make sure they are hungry at mealtime! Halt snacking at least 1 to 2 hours beforehand and even longer for older children.

  • If children are labeled as "picky eaters," guess what? They will be! Let's stop the labeling and eat with our children the most nutritious meals we can provide.

If you're looking for more fun ways to get your kids excited about trying new (and nutritious) foods, see what's cooking at Fizzy's Lunch Lab on PBS KIDS GO! There are lots of great ideas and activities to inspire kids to give new foods a try!

I'd love to hear from you. What are your tips and tricks for getting kids to try new foods?

Sorry, Sarah Krieger, MPH, RD, LD is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Scarlett writes...

This tip has a typo: "Let your child see you try new foods. Children are copycats, so if you model an interest in trying new things, there's a stronger chance that your child will to."

The last word should, of course, be "too."

Letting kids get involved in the growing of, shopping for, and preparation of food is also helpful. When they have an investment in the meal, they are less likely to reject it.

Hi Scarlett. I corrected it. Thank you!


Emily writes...

Hi. I have a question. I am a mother of an 11 month old who will not eat solid foods. He will only eat yogurt and baby food with no chucks. I am worried that this will continue if I don't come up with a solution. We give him the foods with the chucks of veggies and he gags and spits them out and refuses to eat, so I give in and go with the stage 2 creamy foods that he will eat. Help!!

Sarah? writes...

Emily, your baby is what I consider a transition phase of eating. Some babies love smooth textures throughout infancy and some (like my daughter was) gag on all smooth baby foods and jump right in to solid foods at 13 months. My youngest is 12 months, so I too have gone through this. One thing you can start to do is do a quick blend of the foods you make for yourself and then offer to baby. Start to cut back on the jarred foods while increasing soft and semi-liquid table foods. Try putting a few pieces of dry cereal or bread on his tray while you are feeding him, so he grows used to picking up foods and feeding himself. Offer table foods when baby is especially hungry. Soft poached eggs, French toast, homemade soups and stews, silken tofu, chunky applesauce, mashed banana are a few ideas for "transition" foods. Also, offer a bite or two of whatever you are eating. It may take a few months, but keep on using your sense of humor when introducing new foods and don't take it personally if he refuses!

Jennifer writes...

My 7 year old daughter has always been willing to try lots of new foods and those that other kiddos seemed to shy away from. As a toddler, for example, she ate tomatoes like they were apples and loved spicy Mexican food. However, it seems that lately she has become picky. My biggest problem is packing lunches. She often refuses to eat at school, bringing home a full lunch box. I have allowed her to choose lunch items when we grocery shop and she can't seem to make up her mind, nothing sounds good to her. Things she loved in the past are now "yucky". Why the change? Any suggestions?

Sarah? writes...

Your daughter is going through what nutrition folks call a "food jag". What was once eaten daily is now pushed away. I remember when my now 7 year old son pushed a banana away at age 3 after loving bananas for the first 3 years of his life. How could it be?! He did not eat bananas for that entire year, then returned to them when I was ready. Kids and adults go through food jags. Parents should honor a food jag and not get emotional about it. Kids will pick that up and then it can become a power struggle. In my Fit4AllKids program, this is a daily struggle with the fruits and veggies (sigh). Because your daughter is bringing home her lunch, I would check with the teacher to find out if she is buying snacks or eating foods from other kids. Some schools ban trading foods, which is great. Also, when kids start eating together, some kids are more sensitive from their peer's comments. Unfortunately, a child may be teased for having a salad, a hot thermos or something "different" than other lunches. One other thing you may try if you already haven't is to stick with making one entree per meal. I see so many parents "short-order" cooking. Kids will eat when they are hungry, so by offering a nutritious meal, they will eat it if they are hungry.

Constance writes...

I don't have any tricks to get my 3-yr-old to try new food, but I have observed a trend that a "no" once often becomes a "yes" later on, especially if she sees her parents "enjoying" the rejected food in question.

Naaba writes...

My child once cried when he wanted to eat a certain thing. He absolutely refuses other things. Is it better since he's not growing as fast as my daughters to let him eat the cereal over the meatballs I made?(He cried once until his face turned red! He would spit the meatballs out. I know he liked the meatballs the day before because he ate them the day before. They were leftovers.)

Sarah? writes...

I maintain that it makes the parent/caregiver's life much easier if everyone in the family is eating the same meal. You did not mention how old your child is, but most kids pick up quickly that if they are interested in the "menu", they will quickly ask for the old standby-cereal in your case. How about recreating the meatballs into something else the second day to keep meals exciting: mash them and add to marinara sauce over pasta or make mini-meatball sandwiches and baked potato wedges.

bunkertank writes...

My wife's priority is to get food into our girl's stomach -- she'll resort to videos during meal time and spooning it in her mouth when she's not paying attention. It works, but I suspect it's not the best idea...? Bunkertank

Sarah? writes...

Well, part of parenting is teaching children HOW to eat as well as WHAT to eat. I don't know how old your child is, but I do know that older children can become quite used to eating in front of the television, computer or worse: by themselves in their bedrooms. Meal times should be conversation times with our kids as well as nourishing our bodies. By eating with our children, using good table manners and eating nutritious foods together, we are instilling these good habits for many years to come.

Tracy writes...

My 4 year old is actually phobic of trying new foods. She gets hysterical at the idea of eating so much as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She was a good eater as a baby, but grew more and more picky as she became a toddler and older. Our goal has always been to get her to eat, but it is such a struggle. Her 2 favorite foods are Coco Wheats and oatmeal, and that is basically all she will eat. We let her pickiness go too far, and now we are at a loss as to how to get her to try anything new at this point.

Sarah? writes...

Tracy, your description sounds like a power struggle is going on at each meal. It is never too late to teach children how to include a variety of foods in their daily menu. Here are a few friendly reminders to parents: remember our job as parents is to serve meals (preferably) at consistent times, we decide what is on the menu (most of time), we eat with our kids!, we can include a food that is accepted by our kids already (oatmeal, anyone?), but also include other foods and we never force a child to eat. The child's job is to eat how much she needs, which can be more one day and less the next. If I were Tracy I would serve a small serving of the hot cereal with a meal, but would serve other foods with it. After the child eats the cereal and asks for more (without touching the other foods), Mom matter-of-factly says, "oops-you forgot about the other foods on your plate; if you are still hungry, eat those foods too, otherwise you may excuse yourself from the table until the next meal." Don't be emotional about, just tell her how it is and move on with the day. She will get it-good luck-you can do this!

Misty writes...

I have the same problem as Tracy only my son is 7 now!! We introduced new foods to him the same way we did to his 11 year old sister. She's not a picky eater. But my son REFUSES to eat anything he doesn't (or thinks he doesn't) like. Night after night the vegetables are left on his plate (and yes, we've tried a variety, plus cute faces and dipping sauces, letting him pick them out, etc.) We follow the "If you're still hungry, I'll be glad to heat up your dinner for you" rule. But, NOTHING green passes his lips. My husband and I have wondered if we ought to re-heat the vegetables and give them to him at the next meal - say, breakfast and keep giving them until he eats them. But we can't force feed him and he sees the whole rest of the family eat vegetables. What do I do when he eats everything on his plate except the veggies every single night?

Sarah? writes...

Misty, If you think the comments I have for Tracy do not apply to your situation, here are a few other thoughts. One is that some people prefer certain textures, such as creamy vs crunchy and raw versus cooked. Some kids like their foods separated and others like sauces and cheese on everything. Go with what your child likes. If you know he likes honey, try drizzling a little over his green beans or peas. Crazy you say? I would much rather see a child eat his veggies with a little sweetener instead of only eating sweet foods, such as candy and soda without any veggies eaten. Cinnamon is great with carrots and sweet potatoes. Also, you can get some of the same nutrients from green veggies as in fruits and orange veggies. If he does not like broccoli, offer tomatoes, cantalope and red peppers for the vitamin C, potassium, beta carotene. When he likes the "other colored veggies", then you mix in the new veggie with it. 7-year-olds can do a lot to help prep meals too. Have him pick out a few fruits and veggies that look interesting in the store and have him wash, slice and saute--he just may be more inclined to try something.

Tina writes...

Hi all
I have a one year old, I am trying to get him to try foods that are not from a gerber jar . and amazing as this sounds he will throw up his food up if he doesn't like it,or if he doesn't like the way it looks, I've talked to his pediatrician about this , he said he is a PICKY EATER errrg , I have only gotten him to try nilla wafers (which he likes ) and cinnamon toast crunch cereal .I have tried different veggies and fruits and even cake and ice cream
he throws up .what is the solution ?

Sarah? writes...

Tina, As I mentioned earlier, it may take many tastes of each food before a child accepts it. I know if is easier said than done, but please don't give up! Most children love sweet-tasting foods, so it is not surprising that the sweet crackers and cereals are quickly accepted by your child. Make sure he is hungry when you offer a new food. Offer it with foods he has already accepted. Also, if your son is drinking milk or juice right before a meal, chances are his tummy is too full for solid food after that. Try offering solid food first and then the milk after.

Mary writes...

We just bought some tofu for our 13 month old girl and I'm wondering what's the best way to introduce it to her. She likes food that are "saucey" - doesn't like any of her foods plain. Do you have any recipes you like? Thanks.

Sarah? writes...

Mary, I wish more parents would introduce tofu at a young age because it is a great plant source of protein, vitamins and minerals and is so easy for older infants and toddlers to eat! With that said, tofu as you may know is very versatile. One of my favorite, easy ways to serve to kids is a mock scrambled egg: simply mash firm tofu with a fork and saute a bit until warmed and slightly browned. Add a dash of turmeric spice for color and flavor. By browning it, the flavor is nutty. That's it! Other ways to introduce tofu: mash silken tofu with fork, add a bit of canola oil-based mayo, the turmeric, a dash of onion or garlic powder and serve with bread for a mock egg salad. Older infants will appreciate plain, mashed tofu. Tofu is also good in smoothies: blend silken tofu with any soft fruit: banana, mango, papaya, peaches, etc, and a dash of 100% juice for a snack. Another quick way to prepare firm tofu is to slice it, the dice into small cubes and saute until brown. Add veggies, such as peas, diced carrots, tomatoes. Add coconut milk and curry powder to taste. Serve with cooked pasta or rice. Enjoy!

mai writes...

what type of food that can calm hyperactive kids

Sarah? writes...

You know the story of Peter Rabbit? Try chamomile tea in the late afternoon or evening. Kids do not need caffeine, so if they are drinking it, switch to water, decaf teas or club soda mixed with 100% juice. Also, kids need to be active at least an hour a day-running, playing tag, biking--or longer. Encourage your kids to play hard, so they can rest hard too!

michelle writes...

I have a 4 yr old son who when younger liked certain foods that he wont eat now. He is in pre-kindergarten and what they do at meal time is tell the kids they have to take a "no thank you bite"(which is a very small bite of a new food that they have never tried, then if they dont like it they can say no thank you and not eat it, but when the kids take a small bite some of them like the new food. Do you think this is a good idea to introduce new foods to kids?

Sarah? writes...

I think the 'no thank you bite' is fine just as long as the child is not rewarded for trying it..such as saying, 'just take a bite of the carrots and then you may have a big bowl of ice cream'. What I believe works better is serving the new food along with familiar foods and if the child eats the familiar foods first and asks for more of those foods without trying the new food, simply offer the new food and don't offer seconds until it is tried.

Linda writes...

I have a 18 month old daughter and she has milk and soy allergy it hard to find the right foods to feed her when she already love to eat the ones she allergic to. like yogurts and she like to eat bread and so far i found out she cant eat any of it do you know what kind of food i can give her? and also she drinks rice milk.

Sarah? writes...

Linda, it sounds like your daughter was recently diagnosed with milk and soy allergies since she was already eating yogurt? The good news is that many dairy substitutes are fortified with calcium-like the rice milk and are available in many grocery stores. There are many foods she can eat: all meats, vegetables, fruits, potatoes, rice, oats, and wheat grains--all whole foods, which kids need to include daily anyway. If you would like to have a specific meal plan for your daughter, find a dietitian in your area at

brian writes...

My 3 year old went through a six month period of not eating and flatline weight gain. Her pediatrician even used the word "anorexia" in his comments! Can a 3-yr-old suffer from anorexia? Fortunately, she's eating again and her weight curve is going up (she loves tofu, having been introduced to solid foods in Korea), and is growing out of her clothes and shoes, so I'm not too worried anymore.

Sarah? writes...

Toddlers and preschoolers are learning so much, that sometimes eating gets in the way! But they know their appetite better than we do, so we can never force the issue! Anorexia means " a lack of appetite", which is what your child may have had. Anorexia nervosa is the eating disorder in which a person purposely self restricts or avoids eating in order to lose weight. Your child had the former.

Tanya writes...

I actually have a question. My daughter is going into the 5th grade next year. The past two year I have home schooled her because she has just not had the best school experiences. Well, I decided she should try public school again, we are in a very good district now, and the kids she has met so far have been easy to get along with, although she has still not made that close girlfriend. She is having some anxiety about the 5th grade. She feels she is diff then other girls and won't be excepted. I have told her what I believe 5th grade girls will be like, and what they will do. She has never had issues with getting along with kids, just she hasn't found that actual group like most kids, she tends to be a flip flopper between all kids. She still likes to play games and stuff, and she is afraid she won't be excepted, and she is upset at some of the changes that will be made, like girls worried about appearance, my daughter is one that has never been worried about that, believe me I have tried to make her. What can I do to ease her mind, and where can I find information that teaches girls the right things to fit in?

Sarah? writes...

Tanya, I work with 8 to 12 year olds in a weight management class and I understand your situation. Since you have home schooled you may have already tried to get your daughter involved with community activity groups she has shown interest in already? If not, there are many that boost self confidence: tae kwon do/karate, Girl Scouts, sports team-soccer, soft ball, swimming--really anything that she shows interest in can build confidence in. If she can build self confidence and make friends outside of school, she may be more confident around peers at school. If you sense she is being bullied at school, is a great reference for parents, students and teachers.

Heather writes...

My son is almost 3. I made all of his baby food and he loved almost everything I gave him. His transition to table food was smooth and first. It wasn't until he turned 2 that we started having problems. Now he rarely eats at all. I've tried finding foods that he likes and incorporating them into whatever meal we're having, aiming to get his interest, but he changes what he will eat daily (so Chicken Fried Steak--his "favorite" I guess you could call it-- is fabulous on Monday, but he just gags on it on Tuesday no matter how I present it to him). It really scares us. He's not like other kids, he doesn't "eat when he's hungry"...we've tried this approach and he's gone as long as 3 days without food before I finally had to give him a Carnation breakfast drink for nutrients. He also goes through phases where he's very interested in food for a week or so, then suddenly refuses to eat anymore and we're right back where we were. The only things I can consistently get him to take are fluids, so we make a lot of fruit or peanut butter smoothies at our house. No one else's suggestions have worked for us. Help me, if you can.

kimberly writes...

I get my kids to try at least one bite at dinner time eventually some of the foods they start to like and eat more of some the never like, like baked salmon my oldest hates it I still get him to try it when we have it for dinner but we have beenn trying that for sometime now maybe he will learn to like it maybe he won't but I tried

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