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Expanding Childrens’ Palates and Worldviews Through Food

Mealtime is an opportunity to provide babies, toddlers and young children with a wide range of experiences that involve their five senses. Incorporating activities around food — and the various cultures from which dishes originate — can help children expand their worldviews and develop stronger brain pathways.

Exploring cultures through food

It can be fun, rewarding and impactful to celebrate cultural food practices with children. Activities don’t need to be complicated, and they don’t need to directly involve physical food. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Show children pictures of different foods from various countries. Talk with them about how these foods are grown, how they are prepared, and whether the food is a dish itself or an ingredient in a meal.
  • Connect the food that children are learning about to what’s already on their day-to-day plates. Certain ingredients may already be a part of a dish that’s more familiar to children. For example, some children may not have tried Indian food before, but they may be familiar with chickpeas, cinnamon or onions.
  • Try a new dish on your menu once a month. Talk to the children about the dish’s origins and lead them in exploration of the smells, textures, colors and flavors while trying it.
  • Pick a culturally diverse recipe from your menu and have the children decorate it, whether that’s decorating the physical food with toppings or decorating a print-out image of the food. Give children a copy of the recipe to bring home and encourage their family to try it.

Not sure where to start for dishes? Try this Arepas recipe for children who love the movie “Encanto,” this rice paper rolls recipe to familiarize children with Vietnamese ingredients, or this sushi sandwich recipe.

Working with picky eaters

Trying new foods with children is easier said than done, but there are strategies that can help make the process easier for everyone. Some children develop a fear of new foods around the age of two, but it’s completely normal. The aversion typically peaks between 2 and 6 years and decreases progressively as the child gets older.

The more flavors your child experiences at a young age, the more likely they are to eat a wide range of foods as they grow up. Herbs and spices add flavor to children’s food without adding less desirable ingredients, like sugar or salt, and help their palate expand to enjoy food from a variety of cultures.

It can take time for children to develop a taste for new flavors. Be calm and patient when reintroducing food that may not be a hit from the first bite. Exposure to variety and colorful options — paired with modeling good eating behavior — can lower children’s opposition over time.

Here are some tips for introducing new foods and flavors:

  • Get children involved. They’re more likely to try food if they help prepare it.
  • Eat together. Prepare one meal for everyone and don’t make separate food for a certain child.
  • Mix it up. Incorporate a variety of different herbs, spices, vegetables, fruits, proteins and grains. If you only give children chicken fingers, that’s all they’re going to want to eat.
  • Put a new twist on a familiar dish. Ease into unfamiliar flavors using food like muffins, meatballs, pizza, pasta and tacos to expand into new flavor territories.

Intentional meals are just one way to boost the quality of care for children. If you’re ready to learn more, Step Up to Quality helps great child care providers become even better. If you’re a parent who’s on the search for providers who are committed to quality care, check out our search tool to find options near you.