We often make the mistake about focusing only on the actual consumption of food when feeding our children. It is important to remember that mealtime is a sensory experience involving all the senses. Here's how:
Visual: Presentation matters. For example, which of the meals below looks most appealing? Chefs are specially trained in creating visually appealing meals. The way you present a food to a child makes a difference. Think about favorite colors, combinations of food on the plate, and the dishes used to make your child want to come sit at the table.
Tactile: If you don't want to touch it, why would you want to eat it? Think about this when presenting food to your child. For example, holding a banana in the peel is a very different tactile experience than picking up slices of banana. You may present some utensils as an option or first just get your child used to touching a new food before asking them to taste it.
Smell: Good smell leads to willingness to taste. This is a conditioned phenomenon. From the time we first start eating, we learn that when something smells appealing to us, it will taste good too. Good smells can also increase our appetite (think of the hunger that hits you when you smell cooking garlic). Encourage your child to smell foods before asking them to take a taste. Talk about how foods smell and make sure that the smells at mealtime are appealing to your child.
Hearing: This one may sound odd, but think of mealtime experiences in various places - a crowded family restaurant, a busy cafe, a small romantic restaurant, or in your own dining room. Sound does shape our experiences. Negative experiences with mealtime in an overwhelming environment can have an effect on how we perceive food. Trying new foods should happen in an environment that is pleasant to the child.
Taste: Finally, of course taste is important in the mealtime experience. If something tastes good, we are much more likely to eat it again. We often start by giving children bland foods to try: plain peas, broccoli, carrot sticks, and so on. Don't be afraid to experiment with food combinations, spices, and condiments to ensure that foods taste good from the start! More tips on how to do this will be coming on the blog!