Article: Taste testing helps incorporate new foods into family’s diet


I was having one of those days, with an amazingly long to do list hanging over my head, no time to talk, and then it happened… I saw a former student from one of my nutrition classes at Cosumnes River College, and she made my day! She was so excited to tell me about all of the changes she made to her eating and exercise habits throughout last semester and into the New Year. She was just beaming when she told me how her 6 year old nephew, who lives with her family, went from eating 4-5 bags of “hot Cheetos” to deciding to bring fresh fruit to school instead! She raved about how her mom and dad were making big changes to their diet; no more picking up a huge container of doughnuts or muffins at the local warehouse store! Their kitchen was now stocked with fresh fruits and veggies! While her nephew has made many super changes, including replacing ice cream with blended frozen fruit, he tried almond milk and didn’t like it. She really wanted to get him to stop drinking cow’s milk, so she asked me if I had any suggestions for her. What I proposed might just work in your house, so I thought that I’d share it!

While we all know that sustained behavior change can be challenging, the most difficult tend to be those about which we feel pressured by guilt, external nagging or a negative consequence (in the semi-distant future).  These changes can be ridiculously painful (emotionally) and typically don’t stick, because they are “must do’s” not “want to’s”, and the pain of changing today seems to outweigh the future pain of suffering the consequences  of staying the same. Getting educated about a subject is key for many decisions, as I often tell my students, “When you know better, you do better.” While this certainly applies to my student’s nephew, it is also important for the education piece to be age and developmentally appropriate, so I would argue for a more “hands-on” learning experience in this case.

Instead of expecting her nephew to choose something new, like sweetened vanilla almond milk, over his usual choice of cow’s milk, why not incorporate some of his preferences (she told me that he doesn’t like sweets very much), and set up a science experiment that involves tasting a variety of options, any of which would be a good choice?  She could gather a variety of unsweetened plant milks: plain soy milk, vanilla soy milk, chocolate soy milk, chocolate almond milk, and plain or vanilla almond milk, since the unsweetened varieties taste quite different than the sweetened counterparts. It will also be important to make this fun and involve her nephew in the experiment set up, including how to organize a chart to record his ratings, what type of rating system to use (scale of 1-10 for overall likability or rating several different aspects), whether to do one round with and one without a blindfold and even extend it to mixtures – which makes the best banana or berry shake?

Kids can have fun being involved in a "real" experiment!

Kids can have fun being involved in a “real” experiment!

This practical strategy can be used for nearly any food! Want your family to eat more cauliflower? Why not set up a tasting experiment with it prepared in a variety of ways? You will find recipe ideas including: Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Roasted Cauliflower with Scallion Vinaigrette and even a grain-free Cauliflower Tabouli. When you make all of the tasting options good ones, you can’t lose! We also have to keep in the back of our minds that TASTE is LEARNED! Think about foods that you did not “love at first bite,” but now really enjoy…  And rest assured, the more that we eat the foods that “love us back,” the more that we will love eating them! (Of course there is research to back this up… I am The Nutrition Professor, after all!) Since we are in the middle of National Nutrition Month, the timing couldn’t be better to experiment with a “new” food or preparation method. Make this fun!

Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified exercise physiologist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, conducts corporate wellness work, professional speaking engagements, and has a regular segment on California Bountiful TV. Don’t miss her innovative cookbook – The Foodie Bar™ Way: One meal. Lots of options. Everyone’s happy. available at

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