Remember the infamous mystery meat from the school cafeteria? Today's kids share the same concerns as you once did about new and unusual foods. They're often reluctant to try dishes because they don't know what's in them or why food has a certain texture. But if a kid helps cook, is he or she more likely to eat that dish?
Think about it: Experts recommend introducing a baby to new foods one at a time. Part of the reason is the learning process. Research has proven there's a relationship between tactile experience and taste. What's more, flavor is a sensory experience that's a fusion of taste, smell and touch. Kids learn by engaging all five senses, so what better way for them to learn than by seeing, touching, tasting and smelling food as they help cook it [source: Penn State University]?
Then, there's the trust factor. When your bouncing baby boy tries a new food, he's stepping out on childlike faith -- with reassurance from you, of course. The same applies to an older child; he feels more comfortable eating something if he knows the ingredients it's comprised of and how the food was prepared [source: Kerr]. If he's right there in the kitchen helping you, the fear of the unknown will be relieved, and he also gets some pride out of doing the grown-up work of cooking.
For another example, take the Edible Schoolyard. Chef and author Alice Waters created this program in 1995 in Berkeley, Calif., to provide grade-school students with year-round, hands-on experience farming and cooking [source: Edible Schoolyard]. Participating children cultivate fresh produce as part of an integrated classroom curriculum to enhance their learning in subjects such as math, science and social studies. Also, the school cafeteria uses the fruit and vegetables that the kids grow to make breakfast and lunch every day that classes are in session. And the kids just eat it up! Chef Waters' organization, the Chez Panisse Foundation, reports that youngsters are, indeed, more willing to eat foods that they grow or cook themselves. The experiment has been so successful that in 2005, its first affiliate program launched in New Orleans. Since then, Edible Schoolyard programs have planted similar projects with community organizations throughout the United States.
Here are some successful tactics you can try at home to encourage your child to try new food.
Assign age-appropriate tasks during mealtime preparation. Even a toddler can pitch in with cooking. Once you help him put on an apron, he can pour cold ingredients into a mixing bowl or wash veggies. A kindergarten-aged child can make sandwiches or basic salads. With proper training, a preteen can actually prepare entire meals, within reason. Throughout the process, look for opportunities to teach your child about things like nutrition, culture and sustainability. By the time your meal is ready, there's a good chance that your child has already sampled it and is ready to showcase it to the rest of the family.