How to Encourage Little Ones to Expand Their Food Palate


Have a picky eater on your hands? While a child with picky eating habits can be frustrating (especially after you spend valuable time creating a meal that they refuse to eat), there’s a bigger problem to deal with.

A picky child can often grow into a picky adult, and beyond enjoying a limited range of culinary experiences, this could also mean that your child suffers nutritionally, if they’re not keen on veggies, fruits and other healthful foods.

How can you encourage your little one to expand their food palate?

1. Start early

One of the biggest things you can do is start early. If your picky eater is still a baby or toddler (most picky palates develop around 18 months), you can begin by introducing them to a wide range of foods. Cooking your own baby food at home is one way to offer variety that you won’t find in the baby food jars on the store shelves.

If your child is a little older and eating solid foods, resist the temptation to opt for easy kid meals, like chicken nuggets and fries. Don’t be afraid to offer them more “adult” dishes. You never know what they’ll love!

2. Don’t make a big deal out of it

If you offer a kid a piece of rutabaga and hype it up, as something they’ll either love or hate, and talk about how you really want them to like it… chances are they won’t.

Don’t make a big deal about trying new foods. Make it something commonplace, something that occurs regularly. And if they don’t like something, no big deal. Move on to something else. If they do like something, throw in some gentle praise for them being open to new things, and then just add it to your usual rotation of meals.

If you really want your child to expand their palate, you’ll want to make trying new things a way of life, not a big production.

3. Go simple

If you have a really picky eater on your hands, a kid who’s already established strong likes and dislikes for certain foods, introduce them to new things (or reintroduce them to disliked ingredients) in simple, palatable ways.

Maybe they say they hate broccoli, because they tried a stalk of raw broccoli dipped in ranch dressing once and they didn’t care for the texture. So maybe you make a broccoli cheddar soup or a broccoli cheese casserole, and let them give that a try.

But if they’re not a fan of vegetables across the board, you don’t want to jump straight into eggplant and brussels sprouts. Go simple, go easy (and when all else fails, add cheese).

4. Involve them in the process

It’s amazing how much more open kids will be to a new experience when you involve them in the planning process.

Rather than surprise your child with a mystery ingredient at dinnertime, take them to the store or farmers market with you. Allow them to help pick out some ingredients in the produce section. Ask for their ideas when meal planning or their help in the kitchen.

That radish is a lot tastier when you picked it out and cooked it yourself.

5. Provide options

Sometimes a child isn’t necessarily averse to a new food — sometimes it’s the way it’s presented. If you’re having a tough time getting your child to eat their veggies alongside their chicken and mac n’ cheese, try a new meal format, one that provides lots of options.

Some parents find success with an appetizer spread, similar to tapas, or even a mini-buffet. Put out a range of new options, all separated and laid out for the family in an attractive way, and let your child choose their dinner. They might not end up trying every single new thing, but if they even try and like just one new food, that’s a win.

6. Never use the “just one bite” method

It’s an extremely popular method. You ask your child to try “just one bite” and they do so reluctantly before rushing off in search of dessert. However, putting this extra pressure on your child can do more harm than good.

Again, if you don’t turn trying new foods into a big to-do, your child is more likely to relax and begin exploring new textures and tastes.

Helping your child expand their palate can be fun!

Trying to expand your child’s palate doesn’t have to be frustrating and full of disappointment. When you approach it with the right mindset, it can be lots of fun — for both of you! Just go into the experience with an open mind and a willingness to sometimes go the extra mile to find, and introduce your child to, exciting new foods.

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