by Alix Tonsgard

If the topics of food and meal times in your household stress you out, you are not alone! Between the ages of two and five years it is common for children to display a fear of new foods, causing them to be cautious about trying things that are unfamiliar. While this might make us think they are being difficult or picky, it’s actually often related to the fact that children are naturally “neophobic,” which means they have an innate fear of trying anything new or foreign, and this includes food.

The preschool years are also a time in a child’s development when they are beginning to be aware of social messages. When it comes to food, this can include what they see on TV as well as their observations of what their friends and family members are eating and saying about food. I once had a child in my preschool class who refused to drink milk when she learned milk came from cows. Her limited experience with cows led her to conclude that cows are dirty and so their milk must be dirty too. Getting through this stage takes time and patience, but this too shall pass!

Cooking, as well as all of the steps leading up to the actual cooking, is rich with possibilities for hands-on math and science fun!  As an added bonus, involving children in gardening, shopping, menu planning, and cooking are good ways to give them “ownership” of a food and makes them more likely to try it.

Here are some quick and easy things to try:

  • Do a taste. Dip carrots into hummus, sun butter or salad dressing.  
  • Do a crunch test. Try three different kinds of vegetables to see which one crunches the loudest!
  • Play a guessing game. Engage all sense by tasting different foods while blindfolded; then encourage the use or descriptive words to describe what they taste, such as salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth, warm, cold, etc.

The most important things to remember are that you are your children’s first teacher (they watch and model everything you do) and to have fun, take risks, and try new things!  For some more ideas, read my full blog at

Alix Tonsgard is an early learning specialist at the DuPage Children’s Museum.