Taste Test Game: How to Get Your Kids Eating New Foods
Looking for a way to get your kids to try new foods without resorting to nagging, bribery or deception?
Let your kids be food critics for a day.
In this article, I’ll show you a creative and fun way to introduce your kids to new flavors, textures and foods that can lead to a lifetime of healthier, more adventurous eating.
Why Encourage Children to Try New Foods?
When you turn food experimentation into a game instead of an obligation, your kids will be more willing to try new things. And they may just discover that there’s a lot more to mealtime than peanut butter and jelly.
You’ve probably got a memory like this:
Maybe you were at a party or on a trip or eating at a buffet and there was some new food you’d never tried before. It may have been funny looking or intimidating, a little scary, but you decided to be brave and give it a taste. A tentative bite, a few chews and a swallow… It was delicious—an amazing new discovery! A food you’ve enjoyed ever since.
Wouldn’t you love to help your children have that kind of experience, to overcome their fear or reluctance of trying new things, to develop an open-minded and adventurous feeling about food that will get them to take that first tentative bite?
DW The Picky Eater is a classic story about a little girl who refused to eat spinach.
And to be rewarded with the discovery of a new food that they absolutely love?
Keep reading and I will show you how.
Introduction to Taste Testing
Food critics and famous chefs—even the character in Ratatouille—didn’t wake up one day as experts at tasting foods. They learned by trying all kinds of foods and finding different words to describe what they tasted.
It takes practice to taste different flavors and learn to combine them.
The best chefs can taste their recipes and know exactly what to add to make it perfect because they have tasted those flavors many times before—both when it was good and when it was terrible.
Children (and many adults, too) don’t have that experience. Many kids are naturally suspicious of unfamiliar foods, and quickly categorize them as ‘yummy’ or ‘yucky,’ sometimes before the foods have passed their lips.
Good tasters are not afraid to taste something they don’t like. They see it as part of the adventure. Without tasting a few disgusting mouthfuls, you won’t know how to tell when something tastes amazing.
#1: Choose Your Tasting Experiment
There are lots of different tasting experiments you could try. Here are some ideas:
- Exotic fruits with strange names
- Foods that start with a certain letter of the alphabet
- Sausages on sticks with dipping sauces from different countries
- Fruits and vegetables that are all in season this month
- A single fruit or vegetable in different states (e.g., grated, steamed, roasted, fried, mashed and puréed)
- Different cuts from one animal—e.g., ham, bacon, prosciutto, ribs, pig ears, pig cheek, loin
Find something your children already like and build upon it. If they’re crazy about mac ‘n cheese, test different types of pasta and sauces—some familiar and some more unusual.
You could also choose a food your kids are curious about. For this article, we tasted cheeses with different bases and accompaniments because it made my children feel like real food critics. They have seen posters for cheese and wine tasting events and have wondered why French chefs in cartoons always seem to wax lyrical about cheese!
We decided to taste cheese, just like the professionals do.
Start with something familiar and build up to more adventurous flavors. Cheese was a great starting point. We started with flavors they’re already comfortable with, which enabled them to be a bit braver later in the experiment.
Here’s a handy list of the cheeses and accompaniments (PDF) we used in our taste test.
#2: Set Expectations (for your children AND yourself)
Talk to your kids before you start to explain the rules and set expectations.
- They will not like everything they taste.
- If they don’t like something, it’s ok and they won’t get in trouble.
- They need to try each food and use some words to explain what they think of everything they taste (whether they like it or not).
- Remind them that you will be tasting things too and there may be some foods that you don’t like.
It’s also important to set expectations for yourself:
- Your children will not turn into gourmets in one hour.
- Don’t be disappointed if they don’t like what they taste or if they find it difficult to try things.
- They will not magically develop cooking skills or an affinity for all of the foods in your test.
- Have patience. You learned once too.
- This will make a mess. Don’t start cleaning up until after the taste test is over. Children must not feel that experimenting with food is a messy problem to you.
- Keep it fun.
Most important—no nagging, daring or hectoring are allowed. Everyone should try things for fun and agree to be brave and supportive. Do not make anyone else feel bad.
#3: Taste and Describe Your Foods
Prepare and taste your main food. If you’ll be testing sauces or accompaniments, test the basic food first and add onto it later. In our case, this meant trying five different cheeses.
Serve on a neutral base, if needed. To make a fair comparison we tried each of the cheeses on a circle of whole-wheat toast we cut with a cookie cutter.
Caution: If your children are very small, you should slice the cheese for them.
Taste and assess. We chewed the cheese for a few moments and used lots of different words to describe how it tasted.
If you get stuck, use this list of food adjectives (PDF) to help find the right words.
Compare the flavor to something it tastes like. Having trouble with a description? Try to think of something it tastes similar to or reminds you of. For example, Jacob thought that Parmesan tasted like cheddar mixed with a smelly sock.
Another way to describe taste is to use comparative words. Is it spicier, fresher, soapier, blander, crunchier or crumblier than another thing they have tried? Jacob thought halloumi tasted ‘denser than cream cheese’ but ‘not as sharp as feta.’
Focus on words to describe why you like or don’t like a food. Anna didn’t really like feta. She thought it was ‘sickly,’ ‘squishy’ and ‘too salty.’ But she loved cream cheese because ‘it made the bread moist’ and it was ‘really creamy and soft.’
#4: Try Different Textures
Food’s texture can have a big effect on whether children like it or not. Prepare foods in various ways to test different textures.
We heated the cheese to see how cooking changed the taste and texture. This was the main reason we made the effort to get halloumi cheese, because it holds its shape and browns without melting.
Describe how different textures affect the flavor. We discovered that halloumi is ‘less rubbery and squeaky’ when cooked, that cheddar and parmesan take on a ‘homely’ and ‘meaty’ edge when browned and that cream cheese becomes ‘even creamier but with crispy bits.’ Feta didn’t seem to change flavor at all.
Here are some other ideas for trying different textures:
- Root vegetables: raw grated, raw sliced, raw peeled in slivers, steamed lightly, cooked until soft, mashed with a fork, puréed
- Fruits: sliced, grated, fork-mashed raw, puréed raw, poached whole or cooked down to a sauce
- Meats: thin slivers of cured meats, crispy bacon, boiled ham chunks, dark poultry meat versus light meat
- Peas: mangetout, sugar snaps, raw peas from pod, cooked peas, fork-mashed, puréed
#5: Experiment With Combinations
You’ve tried your basic food. You’ve experimented with different textures. Now the fun really begins. Add accompaniments and try lots of different combinations.
We tried our cheeses with toast, crackers and rye biscuits, and with a range of vegetables, fruits, jams, relishes and sauces to liven them up.
Encourage children to try something more than once, combined in a different way. If they hate dill pickle with cheddar and rye, suggest they try a smaller sliver of pickle with cream cheese and toast. Even if they still don’t like it, they can discover how the taste of every item changes when paired with different things.
Anna was surprised to learn that her favorite crackers (Cheddars) overpowered her favorite two toppings (cream cheese and cucumber) and they didn’t taste good together. But switching those toppings onto rye crackers worked perfectly.
Have fun with it! Once you have made lots of combinations, try making some for each other. The kids made a huge plateful for their Dad on his lunch hour and had great fun watching him eat some gruesome combinations and try to work out what they were.
#6: Try a Blind Taste Test (optional)
Finally, you could try a blindfold tasting experiment. When you can’t see the food you’re eating, you have to really taste it to work out what it is.
If you think your kids could try this without freaking them out, it’s great fun. But don’t push it on the first session if your children are still quite suspicious and you think it might spoil the session. An alternative would be for you to wear the blindfold and let them feed the food to you.
Make plates of identical food for each tester while they’re out of the room. Then wrap a scarf around their heads to cover their eyes and sit them down carefully. You have to place each item into their fingers so they just have to lift it to their lips.
My kids were quite competitive, both trying to guess the ingredients before the other did. It was so much fun, they completely forgot that they might not like some of the ingredients. Both chewed and guessed the ingredients correctly before deciding whether they liked the taste or not.
Taste testing is a tried and true technique to get reticent children to try new foods. Making it into a game with a little healthy competition makes most children forget their fears.
We use this technique in schools with picky eaters, who will sometimes only smell or lick a food to guess what it is, but will be proud that they got that far.
If your children are reluctant to eat fruits and vegetables, you can print free food guessing strips for each month and conduct a blind taste test with different seasonal vegetables and fruits throughout the year.
Some Final Thoughts…
I hope this gave you some ideas for your own food tasting experiments. If your children get the bug for trying things, try to go with the flow. If they ask to mix ketchup into their mayo or dip a pickle in their yogurt next time you eat lunch, let them discover for themselves whether that’s a good idea or not.
Remember that your ultimate goal is to remind your children that food is supposed to be enjoyable. Whatever lip-smacking or gagging goes down during the tasting is ok as long as everyone has fun doing it.
What do you think? Do your children like tasting new foods? Which foods could you try that they haven’t explored yet? Share your ideas and pictures of your taste test in the comments below.
Joanne Roach runs The Foodies Books which helps parents, caregivers and teachers get young children growing, cooking and eating a wide variety of healthy and tasty foods. Other posts by Joanne Roach »