Accepting New Foods

Many of us may find it difficult to accept foods we have never tried before. We can be alarmed by unfamiliar foods, disinclined to try new foods, or have a really short list of foods we will eat. How do we overcome this? What is the best way to try and improve our acceptance of new foods so we can increase the variety in our eating?

There is a book that I have found particularly helpful in my work as a dietitian, and I use it quite often when I’m talking about family meals or feeding a healthy family. The book was written by a dietitian named Ellyn Satter and is titled, ‘Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family.’ Among other things, it discusses how we, as adults, can improve our ability to try new foods. I find the suggestions and strategies in the book very useful, and wanted to share them.
In general, there are a few reasons why people can have poor food acceptance skills. Either they weren’t exposed to a lot of different foods growing up, or they were put under too much pressure to try new foods, or a combination of both. In order to improve food acceptance skills, we should do the opposite of this. We should give ourselves plenty of time and opportunities to try new foods, and take the pressure off ourselves.
Here are some general suggestions for improving food acceptance skills:
  • Base your meals on foods you enjoy–to experiment with the unfamiliar, you need the reassurance of the familiar.
  • Pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods, favorite with not-so-favorite. You may be braver about trying new foods if you have something familiar to fall back on.
  • When you are ready to experiment with a new food, give yourself time and an escape hatch–you can back out at any time.
In order to give yourself ample opportunities to be exposed to new foods without putting pressure on yourself, here are some simple steps:
  • Examine foods at the grocery store without buying them
  • When you’re comfortable, buy a small amount and prepare it without eating it
  • When you feel ready, actually put the food in your mouth without swallowing it, and keep the tissues handy (get your mouth familiar with the texture and mouthfeel)
  • Do this over and over again until you are ready to swallow
  • Take another bite if you want to, or not if you don’t
It’s important to remember not to give up too quickly on new foods, especially after only a few tries. Studies show that it takes an adult an average of 10-20 tries, or even more to determine food acceptance. Similarly, don’t overwhelm or stress yourself out with trying lots of different foods at once. Take it slowly. Small, simple steps are the key. Finally, each person is unique and individual. Find a solution or system that works best for you. Don’t give up–you are definitely worth it! Over time, you can improve your food acceptance skills and enjoy eating a variety of foods.
Rachel Cope MPH, RD, CD