How Children Learn to Like New Food

Ellyn Satter
May 28, 2010

For a young child learning to eat, all foods are new, even those that are very familiar to you. It generally takes children time and repeated neutral exposure to learn to like new food. Neutral exposure is matter-of-factly presenting the food without outside pressure of any kind. Outside pressure is often negative, as when a child is forced, shamed or manipulated into eating. Outside pressure can appear to be positive, as when a child is encouraged, enticed, persuaded, applauded or rewarded for eating or even tasting the food. However, children can't be fooled. They sense they are being pressured and react by slowing or stopping their learning.

Be patient and persistent, but don't pressure. Children generally need to be offered a food 5 to 20 times -- or even more -- before they learn to enjoy it. In the meantime, they watch us eat, look, touch, smear, taste and spit out. With very tasty foods, however, they do one-trial learning. High-sugar foods such as cookies and candy are easy to like. So are high-fat foods such as French fries and chicken nuggets. Develop strategies for using high fat, high sugar foods.

  • 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, and 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.

Copyright © 2009 by Ellyn Satter. Published at www.EllynSatter.com. 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 www.EllynSatter.com/shopping to purchase books and to review other resources.

For more information, visit Ellyn Satter's Facebook page.

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