South Routt Early Learning Center teacher Cindy Ashley uses stuffed animal Howie Hamburger to introduce garbanzo beans to preschoolers Friday at the school. The school has been working with the Colorado State University Routt County Extension office to try out Food Friends, an educational program designed by CSU to encourage kids to eat a variety of foods.

Photo by Matt Stensland

South Routt Early Learning Center teacher Cindy Ashley uses stuffed animal Howie Hamburger to introduce garbanzo beans to preschoolers Friday at the school. The school has been working with the Colorado State University Routt County Extension office to try out Food Friends, an educational program designed by CSU to encourage kids to eat a variety of foods.

Preschool students get comfortable with unfamiliar foods

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Karen Massey's tips for helping kids try new foods

- Make food fun. Let your child help prepare new foods. Playing games, singing songs and reading books about food are great ways to make food fun.

- Keep offering new foods. It may take eight to 12 times of seeing, playing or smelling a new food before your child will accept it.

- Be a good role model by eating new foods with your child. Your child learns how to eat new foods by watching you and other adults and children eat. Try to eat at least one bite of foods that are new to your child.

- Let your child choose new foods. Kids are more open to trying new foods when they feel they have a choice. When shopping, let your child select a new food to try from two or three food choices.

- Help your child learn about new foods. Talk about the color, shape, smell and texture of the new food. It is OK if your child plays with or spits out new foods because this is your child's way of learning.

- Try offering one new food at a time. Include familiar foods with new foods and let your child serve himself/herself small portions. Offer new foods at the beginning of meals and snacks when your child is most hungry.

- Avoid forcing your child to eat new foods. Kids like new foods less if they are forced to eat them. They also like new foods less when they are given bribes or rewards for eating them. Avoid using the "one-bite" rule or making children "clean their plate."

- Massey is a family and consumer science extension agent with the Routt County Cooperative Extension Service Office

It's not every day you hear preschoolers begging for okra and jicama, but that's exactly what 4- and 5-year-olds at South Routt Preschool were doing Friday morning.

Leftovers were devoured quickly after one of the "tasting parties" the preschool has been holding for students once a week for the past 12 weeks.

"I never had this kind of party - ever," 5-year-old Sienna Russell said.

The tasting parties were funded by a $2,000 Colorado Physical Activity and Nutrition grant through a cooperative effort between the preschool, the Routt County Cooperative Extension Office and the Steamboat Springs School District's grants writer.

"What we're trying to do is get them to be more willing to taste new food," said Karen Massey, a family and consumer science extension agent. "This is the time when kids develop their food preferences. If they get very limited in the foods that they eat, that carries to adulthood."

Friday's party started with the students trying two foods they are very familiar with: peaches and dry cereal. The next two foods were jicama and Gouda cheese, followed by okra and garbanzo beans. Teachers presented the food with a collection of food puppets such as Gertie Gouda and Rudy D. Radish.

"I didn't like Tina Tortilla," said 5-year-old Cutter Wiggins, who liked Gouda cheese better than any of the other foods presented. "She kind of has different kind of stuff in her food."

Massey said the goal of the program is not to get children to like all sorts of food, but rather to get them willing to try them. That goal was realized when 5-year-old Jeremiah Kelley ate a piece of okra with a grimace.

"I don't like it," Kelley said, "but I ate it anyway."

Okra was the least popular food Friday, with six of the 11 children saying they didn't like it. Three children each didn't like garbanzo beans and jicama. But only three times did one of the children refuse to even taste one of the six foods.

"They've gotten really good at just being open to try new stuff," Ashley said.

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