5 Senses Bridge to Discovering New Foods
- Written by Caroline Sasse & Lynne Lafave
It can feel frustrating if you have a child who is having a difficult time opening up to the idea of trying new foods. It might feel like “I have introduced this food for the 10th time and they won’t even try it, why bother?” Sometimes the focus is so strong on getting children to try new food, we forget to take the time to just be 'present in the moment'.
Thing to Consider
Consider the who, what, where, when, why, and how the new food is being presented. So many factors can impact a child’s association with the introduction of new food and many times these factors influence the feelings about that food in the future. If adults are overly focused or use pressure when introducing new food items or the experience is being rushed because meal time is coming to an end, children may make negative associations between those feelings and the new foods that may carry throughout their life. Children are mighty learners, and they can sense the feelings in the room.
When introducing new foods, for the first time or the tenth time, make sure to be in a mindset that is calm and open. When relaxed, children tend to be curious and ask questions. Use that natural sense of curiosity and adventure to present new foods.
The 5 Senses Bridge to Discovering New Foods
Sight: What do we see?
Engage children in a conversation about the new food and get creative!
Perhaps take turns using a magnifying glass to look at the food.1 Another idea could be to use that food as a sensory exposure for children. For example, put a small portion of the new food in a clear plastic bottle and pass it around. Have children offer their thoughts or predictions about what it might be like to eat it.
The presentation of the food could also intrigue the child. Has the new food been presented the same way each time? If possible, shake it up! Cut the food into fun different shapes with cookie cutters. Create an ‘image’ on the plate with the food, like a happy face or an animal.
Hearing: What can we hear?
During food preparation, if possible, have children watch it being prepared. Is this new food something that needs to be washed and cut before being served? Is it something that requires steaming or boiling?
Draw attention to the sound of the food itself. Is it a crunch you hear when you bite down on a cracker or into an apple? Or is it a loud chop like when you bite into a carrot?
You could engage children in a game by asking them to make the sound of the animal that also eats that food.1 Eating cheese? What sound does a mouse make? Or the animal that the food comes from. Drinking milk? What sounds do cows make?
Another idea could be to have various types of food on individual plates and ask children to order the plates from what food would make the most noise to what food would make the least noise. For example, on four plates you could have a cracker, apple, cheese, and broccoli. Then you could model the sounds these foods make as you eat and ask the children to put them in order from loudest to softest sound.2
Touch: What do we feel?
Touch the food directly with your hands. If possible, have children participate in the food preparation or just have them touch the food before and after it is prepared. Once the food is on the plate, have children touch what’s on their plate. While this may seem counterintuitive - “they could get messy”, children will gain a sense of familiarity. Knowing more about the food in a low-pressure way might make them curious to try it. Children explore with their tactile senses. Just as we encourage children to explore new toys, playgrounds, and musical instruments with their hands, so can we encourage them to use this mode of exploration when it comes to food.
For those children unsure about touching the food directly, consider putting the food inside a bag or clear wrap, or you could place the food under a napkin. This will provide a way to touch and explore the new food in a manner that feels safe for the child.
Smell: What do we smell?
Smell creates associations in our minds to food. If you walk by the kitchen and smell favourite familiar foods being prepared, you perhaps get feelings of comfort. Realizing that different children react to smell in varying ways can be helpful when thinking about how to introduce a new food.
Some children might be put off by ‘spicy’ smelling foods such as peppers or spices like chili powder or paprika.2 Other children may have aversions to foods with strong smells like vinegar, olives, or pickles.
Consider asking children to smell the new food before and after the food is prepared. Create a conversation about the difference in the smells.
Consider a sensory game. You could put various foods in paper bags and have the children sniff without seeing what’s inside and then have them guess what foods go with what smells.2
Taste: What do we taste?
The ideas we have explored suggest ways to experience food with our other senses, now children might be ready to taste a new food. Tasting is low risk compared to ‘eating’ as there is no large expectation or commitment. We can support children by letting them know they can simply lick the food to get a sense of it. Dip a clean spoon in the food and let children explore it with their tongue or lick a little piece of the food. Low-stakes opportunities like this are different from putting the food on their plate. It is simply an invitation to explore.
Again, creating a conversation without the expectation of eating will create a sense of safety. Ask children to predict what the taste might be like before they taste it and ask them to describe what they discovered when they did taste the new food. These questions change the approach from having to eat an unknown food to answering questions and discovering answers.
There are many different ways to engage the 5 senses when introducing new foods. Children naturally explore their world with their 5 senses and by using this approach we can empower them to explore new foods without pressure.
Perhaps you can choose to focus on one of the senses in a day or incorporate all 5 at once. Use the approach you believe will work best for the children in your care. Get creative!
A gentle and calm environment without pressure will provide a great space to introduce new foods. Make the introduction of new foods as positive as possible. Remember, it is okay, and expected, that not all children will try every new food. Many children need multiple low-pressure opportunities to try new foods.
Create positive associations with exposure to new foods!
- Teach Nutrition. (n.d.). Exploring food with the 5 senses. Teach Nutrition Maritimes. Retrieved November 10, 2021, from https://dairyfarmersofcanada.ca/en/teachnutrition/maritimes/educational-resource/exploring-food-5-senses.
- Hoppu, Prinz, M., Ojansivu, P., Laaksonen, O., & Sandell, M. A. (2015). Impact of sensory-based food education in kindergarten on willingness to eat vegetables and berries. Food & Nutrition Research, 59(1), 28795–28795. https://doi.org/10.3402/fnr.v59.28795