By Julia Moravcsik, PhD, author of Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food
If you watch your pet dog discover a tasty morsel on the sidewalk, you'll notice a difference between him and yourself. Your dog probably found the morsel by sniffing. Most animals use their sense of smell to determine whether something is food or not.
Humans Use Vision To Determine What is Tasty
We humans (like most primates) use our sense of vision to determine whether a food is tasty. After we see it, we then use our sense of taste and smell to verify that the food is indeed as tasty as it looks.
Why is this? First of all, primates use their hands to bring food to their mouths. They have to have an initial idea of what to pick up or else they would spend hours bringing every object in their view to their mouths to taste.
Second, we primates are smart, and we can form initial hypotheses about what might taste good. For example, humans and other fruit-eating primates see the color red very well because red is the color of ripe fruit. If a fruit looks red, it's worth trying a taste of it.
Processed Food Looks Interesting and Fun
Processed food manufacturers have an advantage over us parents -- they can make their food look especially interesting and fun. Peeps, candy canes, and cotton candy look more like toys than food. The fun look makes kids like them, even if they taste like nothing more than sugary chemicals.
Researchers have found that children like foods (fruit, for example) much better if they are presented in a way that is visually appealing. Children also like food with fun colors better.
Make Healthy Food Look Beautiful, Interesting, and Fun
There is an entire culinary movement called Nouvelle Cuisine which is devoted to making food look appealing. (Here are some pictures.) Become inspired to do the same for your child's food.
Bill and Claire Wurtzel have authored a creative book with dozens of pictures of egg faces, pancake people, and other funny dishes.
You can buy plates that look like coloring book pictures and fill the plates with colorful healthy foods.
Food art is an area where you can go crazy with the fruits and vegetables. Broccoli can be trees, grated carrots can be hair, and olives can be eyes. Take advantage of the many shapes and colors of fruits and vegetables. At the produce department, look for funny, cute shaped fruits and vegetables.
You can use toothpicks to create a plateful of different mini-sandwiches made of vegetables. Or you can serve skewers with fruit and cheese. Use your imagination.
Children can get involved in making food faces, animals, and people. You can provide dishes of different vegetables and get your children to decorate their next meals. This will help your children learn to cook, which will help them become lifelong healthy eaters.
Use Lots of Colors
A recent study found that children like lots of different colors of food on their dinner plate. Adults liked three different colors of food, but children liked six or seven.
Colors of food correspond to the number of foods, and children also liked more different types of food on their plates than adults. You can take advantage of this preference, because the more different healthy foods a child learns to like in her formative early years, the more healthy foods she'll like later on. Give your child lots of different foods for each meal
Don't Make Healthy Food Look Like Processed Food
You may be tempted to get out the food coloring and the sprinkles. But making healthy food look like processed food will actually teach your child to like processed food!
If your child avoids artificial-looking foods, over the years she will come to find these foods slightly repulsive. She will know what real food looks like, and the bright purples, blues, and yellows of processed foods will seem like what it is -- fake food.
Use the natural colors of real foods to create your food art: orange carrots, purple beets, blue blueberries.
Would you like a simple, easy-to-follow program that will teach your child to love healthy food? See my new book Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food on amazon.com.
Here are some more strategies to help your child love the taste of healthy foods
Why Children Like Processed Food and What You Can Do About It
25 Ways to Get Your Child to Eat Vegetables
Children Don't Like Mushy, Slimy Textured Foods -- Until They Get Used to Them
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