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Tips to expand your child's taste for exotic food

Papaya, asparagus, prosciutto …The grocery aisles are filled with tasty, exotic foods, but you just can't get your child to try them!

According to psychologist Patricia Pliner at the University of Toronto, food neophobia—or the unwillingness to try new foods—is a survival tactic left over from the days when our ancestors foraged in the woods at mealtime.

"It stopped them from eating things that might have killed them," she explains. "But now we forage at the grocery store, so a fear of eating new foods isn't really that useful."

But while food neophobia may no longer be necessary, any parent of a picky eater will agree it is still a major problem.

Luckily, Pliner's research—funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)—has discovered ways parents can reduce their children's aversion to new foods.

"Early exposure really decreases the chances that your child will develop food neophobia," says Pliner. "Until they are around two years old, kids will try almost anything, so it's important during this time to introduce them to as many new foods as possible."

Even if your child does turn up her nose at exotic meals later on, Pliner says early exposure will increase the number of foods she thinks of as 'familiar' and thereby expand dinner options.

Another approach is to present new foods in combination with familiar foods, such as a new snack chip served with a familiar dip. Or, present new foods only during quiet meals.

"We know from psychological research that people, and especially younger children, can only tolerate so much excitement," says Pliner. "So, children at a birthday party or family get-together, who are already excited and highly stimulated, will likely react badly to exotic foods."

But, while kids may be too excited to try new food at a party, Pliner says reducing stimulation at mealtime—no TV, soft music, eating seated at a table—may encourage them to try unfamiliar dishes.

"When people are under-stimulated, they tend to seek out new experiences," she explains.

But, food neophobia isn't just a behaviour, warns Pliner. It's also a personality trait.

"While you can do things to encourage children to try new foods, food neophobia is a part of their personalities," she explains. "And, if they are highly neophobic, then you may just have to learn to live with it."

You can learn about other SSHRC-funded research on the Council's Web site (www.sshrc.ca).

- News Canada

HOTEL FUN 4 KIDS™ PRESIDENT'S TIP:

We use the three EEE's to get our children to try new foods.  It's a code with us.  When a new food is introduced I just say - its a three E food.  The kids know that we always say you need to experience new foods by experimenting with new tastes so that you can enjoy new foods.  This way we don't go into the whole lecture about new foods at a restaurant - we just say "Its a Three E food". 

Also see Tips for Eating Out and Dining with Children

All Tips are offered as suggestions only

While we have tried to provide you with a list of suggestions to help parents when travelling with children to keep them safe, unfortunately, we can’t think of everything and it is the responsibility of parents to ensure their children’s safety.

 

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