Frustrated that your children don’t eat better? Worried that your kids are headed down the road to becoming picky eaters? Learn how to explore the sense of taste with kids, and how it can impact your family dinners and improve your meal times!
Flavor is a language. And it takes years to learn.
So expecting our kids to be able to taste and try new foods with the with the open-mindedness of an adult without proper training is like asking you to go sky-diving with no instructions.
Foie Gras and Caviar?
Here’s your parachute. There’s the door.
It seems daunting and scary, right?
By helping to remove intense emotions and feelings of terror from trying foods and looking at a new food more analytically, we can help our children learn to find exploring new flavors a fun and exciting experience, even if we end up not liking the food.
Why You Should Explore The Sense of Taste with Kids
Our sense of taste produces physical and emotional reactions that cannot be explained in just “yummy” and “yucky”. Those two little words can’t even begin to start to express how we feel about what we are eating!
Eating triggers our imagination, it draws on our memories, and creates unique impressions in our mouths and our minds.
There are two main components to being able to taste food properly:
- Being able to slow down and analyze what we are tasting and how that makes us feel.
- Understanding the vocabulary to describe a food’s smells, texture, and taste to share what we like and do not like about a particular food.
Without the proper understanding of the language of food, it can all seem very overwhelming and intimidating. And that means, obviously, that broccoli is yucky.
But learning how to taste our food and how to talk about what we are eating leads to feeling more curiosity and enjoyment out of food, which in turn leads to wanting to try more foods! And that is how you teach kids to love learning to try new foods - without having to break out the cookie cutters.
How is Flavor Different than Taste?
We all remember those experiments in preschool to determine the basic tastes our taste buds can detect - sweet, sugar, salt, sour, bitter and umami.
Flavor is the overall sensory experience that we get when we eat a food - it’s more than just the basic tastes. It also combines how a food smells and feels in our mouths, as well as other sensory information.
Matters of flavor are highly personal. They are colored by past experiences and they are shaped by genetics and childhood exposure. While we all might taste the same thing when we bite into a thick, cakey chocolate donut, we will all have our own personal preferences on whether or not we like it, and for different reasons.
How We Taste Things
How a food tastes is actually a fusion of the food’s taste, smell, and touch into a single sensation.
When food enters our mouths, our taste buds detect the basic tastes. Whatever we are eating (or drinking) also activates sensory cells that allow us to perceive its temperature, spiciness, or creaminess/fatiness.
Combine this information with other sensory information like how a food smells (and any memories those smells remind us of and how that makes us feel), whether or not the texture of the food feels satisfying to us, and any preconceived notions we might have about any of these factors and - voila! You get flavor!
See what I am saying here - tasting food is super complicated.
How Teach Kids to Explore the Sense of Taste
Because there are so many factors that go into how a food tastes to us, it’s important to equip our kids with a basic understanding of how taste works. The ultimate goal is to erase the feelings of fear and replace them with open communication. Here are four easy steps you can do to help teach your kids how to explore the sense of taste.
- Set realistic expectations. It is not realistic to expect your kids to love everything that touches their plate. I can easily name several foods that I don’t like, and I bet you can as well! The goal is not to love everything, it's to be willing to try everything!
- Set parameters. This varies for different families and situations, but setting ground rules like a “two bite rule” or a “courtesy bite” or even just a lick is important. Sitting down with your family (yes, all of you together) and establishing a norm and also discussing why you are setting these standards is important for kids to understand what is expected of them and why.
- Introduce vocabulary. Introducing words to help your child explain how a food smells, tastes, and feels helps them to better explain why they like or do not like something.
- Ask for feedback. Understanding how your child prefers their food will help you enjoy food as a family together better. Does your child gag at mushy carrots but loves them crunchy? You can easily adapt any recipe to cook the veggies less and keep them crunchier. Asking for your child’s input not only makes you a rockstar parent, but it also greatly improves the chances that your kids will actually eat what you serve!
Taste Testing Food -
Here are some fun ideas for testing out various kinds of food. Compare and contrast the different elements together and discuss how their smell, texture, and taste affect their flavor and which you prefer. Go beyond “yummy” and “yucky”!
- Different varieties of apples
- Several kinds of cheese
- Different colors and varieties of grapes
- Different brands of macaroni and cheese
- Different varieties of honey
The possibilities are endless! The important part is introducing fun!
Introducing The Tasting Trek!
Imagine if you could serve new meals to your family without fear.
Imagine if new tastes and ingredients weren’t met with tears, gagging and complaining, but instead real bites and thoughtful discussions.
Image if you could cook ONE meal that your whole family enjoys!
The Tasting Trek Challenge is designed to help busy families learn HOW to enjoy trying new foods and to elevate palates through family dinner time connections!
In this 5 day email challenge, we will remove emotions from trying foods and infuse fun into family meals. Through easy and engaging experiments created for families, we will learn:
- How to set realistic expectations at the dinner table
- The five basic tastes
- How our senses create flavor
- How to actually try new foods
If you are interested in learning more about how to raise kids who love to eat a variety of foods, read The Complete Guide to Raising Adventurous Eaters!