10 Great Foods for Food-Tasting with Young Children
Food tasting with young children is a stimulating activity that supports their development in several areas. Food exploration provides a multi-sensory experience where taste, smell, sight and touch are all engaged. New vocabulary can be introduced and learned throughout, supporting communication and language skills. It also provides an opportunity to encourage healthy relationships with food.
IMPORTANT: Before engaging in food-tasting with children you must check as to whether they have any food allergies, special medical or cultural dietary requirements, sensory issues with certain foods, or have a medical condition that can risk choking or another adverse reaction.
Some children can be reluctant to try new foods, especially at home. However, in a nursery setting, surrounded by their friends and teachers who are also participating, children can be more inclined to take part. It is important for all children to be invited to try all activities and should they refuse, practitioners can adapt their teaching methods to engage with children.
Children who are less keen to try new foods can be supported in a number of ways, such as encouraging them to lick new foods, rather than bite off and swallow a whole mouthful. If they are able to achieve this, much praise should be given, encouraging children to highlight things they liked about the food. If they did not enjoy the taste or texture at all, they should still be praised for trying it.
Once they are comfortable licking foods, graduate them to biting off small amounts. They do not necessarily need to swallow what is in their mouth as chewing it and experiencing the taste and texture is a big next step. Continue this approach, stepping up in suitable ways and gradually, they will become more and more confident to try new foods, eventually managing to eat whole mouthfuls.
If licking food is too much for a child, they should be supported in smelling, or even just touching the food. Many children do not enjoy foods with certain textures, such as oranges, kiwis, strawberries, or meat, for example. By exploring it with their hands first, they can realise there is nothing to be nervous about and that food is actually fun, so in time they may be willing to taste it.
We recommend all settings host regular food-tasting activities, helping children maintain and enjoy healthy diets. When planning food tasting, all tastes should be covered; sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savoury (umami).
Here are TNL’s top 10 food picks for food tasting with children, covering two options for each taste category:
1. Lemons (and limes): The sourness of lemons makes for a divided experience for children. Some really enjoy it and go back for more, while others find it too much and one taste is enough. The funny faces children make when sucking on a lemon not only makes for a great photo opportunity, but also makes lemons our top pick!
2. Dark Chocolate: Bitter tastes are less familiar for young children, so a mixed response can be expected. Children’s eyes light up at the sight of chocolate, but the taste won’t be what they are used to. We recommend using a dark chocolate that’s not too high in cocoa, around 70% is a good level. Practitioners can explain how chocolate can be enjoyed as a treat, highlighting the reasons why too much sugar is not good for them.
3. Honey: This is a good option for sweet tastes, as it is not only delicious but can be tried in various ways. Children can try it on its own, then with yoghurt, fruit, pancakes or porridge, seeing how the taste changes with new additions. This will help them appreciate how versatile it is, understanding how come foods can be used in multiple ways.
4. Pretzels: A good way to experience the salty taste without having to cook! Pretzels are also low in fat and can also be found in whole-wheat options. Children can enjoy them as they come, and can also enjoy the variation of flavours, even doubling up as a sweet tasting option with chocolate pretzels.
5. Seaweed:Great for discovering the umami flavour. It can be purchased as sheets of dried seaweed, which are crispy and melt in your mouth. Dried seaweed is delicious and nutritious, being low in calories and fat. Granted it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but we think it’s worth introducing to children, as some of them will love it and discover something new.
6. Rhubarb: Another sour tasting food to try. Rhubarb is not commonly eaten raw, however in the interest of food tasting, the stalks can be munched on by children to experience the tart, sour taste (NEVER eat the leaves on a rhubarb stalk, they’re poisonous). Practitioners can then discuss how rhubarb is usually cooked, being used for jams, crumble, or pies, any of which could also be brought for children to compare against the raw taste.
7. Citrus Peel: Many citrus fruits are delicious, inside, but their peel can have a very bitter taste. Children can try some orange segments, and then go on to try the orange peel. They do not have to swallow the peel, but rather give it a chew or a lick to see how it tastes. Encourage them to discuss how the same piece of fruit tastes so different on the inside and the outside.
8. Mangoes: A perfect fruit to explore the sweet taste. While some children would have tried mangoes before, they are not as commonplace as say, apples or bananas. Mangoes are refreshing, juicy and high in antioxidants. Mango juice can also be brought in for children to understand how many fruits can be turned into juices for us to drink.
9. Salted Tortilla Chips: Another salty option to explore. Children could enjoy them plain to experience the saltiness, or they could use them to taste a variety of dips. Guacamole, salsa and sour cream are our recommended suggestions.
10. Cheese: More mature cheeses provide stronger umami tastes, but we appreciate a smelly blue cheese probably won’t appeal to most children! Providing some mature cheddar to try will allow children to explore the savoury taste. Multiple cheeses can also be supplied for a ‘cheese tasting’ day, including cheeses they may not have tried before, such as goats cheese, roule, brie, or Swiss.
It is essential that children are fully supervised when eating, and allergies are considered. Food should be provided in appropriate sizes to avoid choking.
Practitioners should be fully engaged in food tasting activities and need to try food alongside the children. To have adults leading by example, children will be encouraged to take part and stronger relationships are formed by sharing the same experiences.