Getting children to like a variety of foods begins in the high chair, literally. I have written (and talked) about the strategies parents use to get kids to eat food, but that can be a short-lived success.
Real success comes from getting kids to like a variety of food, and want to eat them.
One way to increase your chances for success is by introducing key foods that will bridge the gap to variety down the road.
10 Healthy Foods for Toddlers to Try
A magical fruit indeed! I started my little ones on canned beans as a wonderful first food. Perfect for the budding self-feeder (pincer grasp), many different types of beans are available.
If you are buying canned beans, rinse the salt and gooey stuff off before offering them to your young toddler. Or, you can cook them in the slow cooker from scratch—I use this recipe from Mom’s Kitchen Handbook all the time, varying the type of bean, but you may want to cut down the red pepper flakes for baby.
Rich in mono-unsaturated fats (the healthy kind), avocado is creamy and mild. You can brighten the flavor with a squeeze of lemon or lime, and prime the palate for guacamole (yum!) and a healthy sandwich spread stand-in for mayonnaise.
“More trees please!” Isn’t that the real request you want to hear? Introduce this veggie early on, and your odds will increase for its future eating—even if your child takes a break along the way.
Don’t forget to use dips, and blanch broccoli to ease chewing.
This is often an after-thought veggie, but it is widely available and one of the most versatile. Because of its mild flavor, it pairs nicely with melted cheese, honey mustard, or as a substitute for mashed potato.
Blanch or steam for an easy finger food.
5. Tomato Sauce for Pasta
My son who is now eleven years old just started eating tomato sauce on his pasta last year. I think this is because I fell into the plain pasta trap.
If I could do it over, I would have offered him pasta tossed in sauce in the beginning. Don’t forget to use pasta sauce as a dip, or on pita or flat bread with melted cheese on top for finger food lunches (just cut into strips).
6. Whole Wheat or Whole Grain Bread
I have met many families whose children refuse whole wheat breads and products, mostly because their taste buds aren’t used to the flavor.
If you have little ones, just get started on this in the beginning—it will be much easier on everyone in the long run.
7. Plain yogurt
Again, plain yogurt is an acquired taste. If you start baby with this, he will be accustomed to the tart flavor.
If you start with flavored yogurt, he’ll grow to love the sweetness and you’ll have a tougher time switching over to healthier versions. There will be plenty of time for sweets and sweet flavored foods later on.
Ball it, cube it, or let your young toddler scoop it with a spoon. Ripe melon is loaded with nutrients and a great source of hydration in warmer weather.
Usually a winner with kids, and a great addition to any meal.
Otherwise known as pink fish in my home, we introduced salmon early in the toddler years. Again, this is a heart-healthy food and one that kids do better with over time if they are exposed to it early and frequently.
There are several ways to introduce fish to young children. To keep salmon interesting, use some seasoning to flavor it up—soy sauce, ginger and garlic; Chef Prudhomme’s Redfish Magic; lemon and dill—there are lots of different ways to make salmon interesting and flavorful.
10. Other Fish or Shellfish
Parents tell me all the time that they can’t get their kids to eat any fish, and often that is related to its late introduction. Also, partly because the parents themselves don’t like fish!
If you want your kids to like shrimp, tilapia, codfish and other water-loving creatures, get these on the menu when your kids are young.
Many kids don’t drink water. They prefer milk, juice, or some other sort of flavored, sugary drink. Introducing water later on in childhood can be tough, as kids don’t have a taste for it, and want flavor.
Your best defense is to get plain water on board early, and offer it in between meals.
What foods do you think are best to introduce early?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: June 19, 2013
Updated on: July 1, 2019