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How to Help My Child Want to Try New Foods

In April we added another new student to our co-op.  This brings our class total to seven now! 

Hobbes is eleven years old and recently diagnosed as autistic.  

Just like Dinomite he really struggles in the food department.

Our co-op meal time food trial system that had been in place since January with our other new students was not going to work for Hobbes.

Knowing first hand how much Dinomite struggles with food, I wanted to make meal time as pleasant as possible, but also wanted to encourage all of the kiddos to try new foods.

I took the time to ponder and then spoke with my students.  

How do I help each child want to try new foods?

The result has been a beautiful thing!

How to Help My Child Want to Try New Foods

How to Help My Child Want to Try New Foods

Mealtime During the School Day

Previous to Hobbes' arrival, two options were always provided at meal time, to ensure I was accommodating everyone's food preferences, special dietary needs, and struggles.

At breakfast there would be a hot meal option as well as cereal and milk.

At lunch there would be a meal prepared as well as a sandwich prep station with peanut butter, jelly, and nutella.

If I prepared something new, the kiddos were asked to try a tiny bite.  If they didn't like it I'd mark it down as a no go for the future.

Meals they did enjoy I would add to our future meal plan.

Only Bulldog was ever hesitant about trying new foods, but with cheers of encouragement, he would try the tiniest bite and we'd celebrate his success.

My own boys were exempt from this process, as they'd already tried everything I was introducing to our new students.

On Hobbes' first day, I learned very quickly that this process would not work for him.

A Conversation About Food

I gathered all of our co-op friends together and we had a fantastic conversation about food.  I asked each of them what made trying new foods difficult.

Was it the smell?

Was it the sound?

Was it the look?

Was it the taste?

Was it the texture?

For many the first challenge was not the taste.

Dinomite struggles with the look, sound, and smell of foods in that order, so much that he never even makes it to the taste testing in most scenarios.  He can't make it past the other factors.

I then asked students to think about trying a new food.

What was the worst thing that could happen?

Hands down they all said they worried they wouldn't like the food and wouldn't be able to get the taste out of their mouths and recover.

From there I asked my students what their food preferences were.

What did they like best?

Some of their answers were expected.  Favorite foods in our classroom include pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, and homemade macaroni and cheese.

But more than anything, all of them love candy of some kind or another.

The Candy Jars

I'm NOT a fan of candy.

My kiddos receive candy on Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, and Christmas.  That's it!

I'm definitely NOT a fan of rewarding children with candy for preferred behaviors.

In our society with so many people struggling with weight, it seems so unwise to associate food with positive behaviors and rewards.


I AM a fan of supporting a child who wants to work on something that's really hard.

I AM a fan of providing a child with whatever he or she needs to feel confident and be successful.

I  AM most definitely supportive of a child-led experiment to help students better themselves.

This is what led to seven candy jars on the shelf above my kitchen sink, one for each student.

Each student in our co-op has their own jar filled with their favorite kind of candy.

How to Help My Child Want to Try New Foods

Our Mealtimes Now

I still offer two choices.

Meals are prepared so that my students can combine ingredients when they'd like to, and keep them separate and not touching if that's their preference.

The 5 Best Tips for Helping Children Become Independent at Mealtime

You can read about that in my post, The 5 Best Tips for Helping Children Become Independent at Mealtime.

When it comes to trying new foods it's a choice for everyone.

If a student decides to try a new food, they may immediately have one piece of candy after the trial is complete.

Depending on the child a food trial may be just putting the food item in their mouth for a couple of seconds.

For other students, a successful trial means finish chewing and swallowing their bites.

I meet each student where they're at.

No matter what happens during the food trial, each student still gets their piece of candy.

No matter how small, baby steps are still progress.

And the candy...

No matter how awful the new food might have tasted, the candy washes it away.

The candy also helps to regulate the students who struggle most with taste testing.

It's a win win situation!

Home versus School

Now I don't know what foods my students eat at home.  This exercise is only based on foods we serve during co-op.

If I make something new, but it's a food they're used to at home, they still get their piece of candy.

I do this to promote confidence. 

Not every pizza and homemade macaroni and cheese tastes the same right?

And let's be honest, they can only count something as a new food at co-op once, so it's really not that big of a deal if they test a food that they probably like already.

For Sunshine, who's tastes change with her moods, I allow taste tests at each meal, before she makes her plate.

The Results

We've been using the candy jars for over a month now.

Every day at least one student asks if there is anything new to try on the menu.

When there are new foods, there's no more anxiety, only conversation and laughter over how wonderful or how horrible something tastes.

Each student decides for themselves if they're willing to try something new.

Instead of fearing a horrific taste that might be, students know the taste will be replaced with a flavor they love.

It has been amazing to see how much my students have grown in this area all because of a simple candy jar.

I purchased our candy jars at Walmart but you can find them on Amazon HERE.

I love this size because it fits one box of theater candy perfectly!  One box of theater candy lasts longer than you think!

If you are wondering how to help your child want to try new foods I highly recommend trying the candy jars.

For those who are wanting more tips about helping children with food struggles and our journey with autism, be sure to subscribe to our FREE newsletter.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below:

A Minimalist Montessori Kitchen Montessori-inspired Self-Care: Kitchen Tasks Printable Pack My Body: Digestive System and Nutrition Unit When Food Is Your Child's Enemy The 5 Best Tips for Helping Children Become Independent at Mealtime Food Issues: Are They Behavioral, Sensory Related, or Medical?

1 comment:

  1. This is so great! What insight into how to more past food anxiety. I will share with my colleagues if you don't mind.