The first time I picked up a health food cookbook to look for newer, healthier recipes for my family, I was completely overwhelmed. There was so much to learn, so many foods of which I had never heard. I gave the book to a friend and stuck with our routine of easy, sort-of-healthy meals.
Since then I have learned a new approach, one that has helped me turn my family's diet completely around and make us healthier, happier people.
I began with one food at a time. Just one.
Focusing on one food at a time gives you greater success for making that new food a part of your life. Family members tend to panic when they see an entire plate of food they don’t recognize. If only one item on the plate is different, the chances that they will actually give it a try are higher when that item is surrounded by “comfort foods.” Not only that, but you will waste less money buying tons of ingredients that no one will eat even if you figure out how to prepare them. One food at a time, that’s all it takes.
Here are some tips for successfully introducing new foods to your family:
Start with the familiar
Choose a food you have seen in the grocery store or restaurants, but never tried. After all, it's easier to make friends with an acquaintance than a perfect stranger!
Search the Internet
Learn why a particular food can be good for you. Knowing the health benefits will make you more determined to add it to your diet.
Try more than one recipe
Look in cookbooks and on the Web for popular ways to prepare and eat a new food. Try it roasted, boiled, salty, sweet, fresh or cooked, part of a main dish, or even sprinkled on top of other foods. My whole life I thought I hated mushrooms — until I tried them fresh. I had only ever eaten canned mushrooms. Now I eat fresh mushrooms with everything.
Mix it with something your family knows
Add a little quinoa to rice, mix spaghetti squash with spaghetti noodles, put some spinach in with lettuce. The look and taste of the foods they recognize will make the new food seem less “scary.”
Many kids (and some adults, too) need to be introduced to a new food at least three times before they will try it. Give them the chance to get used to how it looks on their plate, how it tastes, and after a little while they might try it without even realizing it.
After three years of focusing on one food at a time, dinners at my house look more like I had wanted them to the day I picked up that cookbook. We enjoy the new foods we eat, and more importantly we understand the good they are doing for our bodies. My kids are more willing to try new foods the first time they are offered and are less intimidated by unfamiliar foods.
Help your family eat healthier by introducing just one new food at a time. Learn to prepare it in more than one way, mix it in with other known foods, and be persistent in your efforts. Better health does not begin with great leaps, but with one small step at a time.