A smiling elementary-aged student wearing a blue school t-shirt holds a sample cup of butternut squash soup and gives a thumbs-up. A student next to them reacts to their own sample of squash during the taste test.
Students sampled different preparations of butternut squash during a Tasty Challenge at a school in Paterson, New Jersey. Photo by Ian Douglas.

What is a taste test? FoodCorps uses taste tests in schools to introduce kids to new foods, or new preparations of foods they already know.

Taste tests at home can be a fun, hands-on way to get your kids involved in household food prep, introduce them to new flavors, and help them learn what tastes and textures most appeal to them.

If you’re looking to add more dishes into your family meal rotation, consider “hosting” a taste test with your kids to get their input. After all, they won’t know whether they love a food until they try it!

Steps for a Conducting Home Taste Test

We encourage kids to try new foods through two different kinds of taste tests:

  • A classic taste test, where a student tries a new food and votes on whether they loved it, liked it, or “tried it”
  • A Tasty Challenge, where a student tries a food prepared two different ways (e.g. roasted carrots and raw carrots) and votes on their favorite

First, decide which of these approaches you’ll take. A classic taste test can be a hands-on way to introduce a new food—and it involves less prep and cleanup! 

A Tasty Challenge, on the other hand, gives a kid the chance to experience multiple tastings at once. This can increase their preference for the food and also shows them how food tastes different based on its preparation.

Behavioral science research has found that when expressing a preference for one item over another (“I like this one best!”)—rather than just stating whether they liked one item—people are more likely to enjoy that item overall. 

Based on this info, choose the format that will work best for your family.

Choosing Recipes For Your Taste Test

When choosing recipes for your taste test, think about your desired yield (how much food the recipe will make), cooking techniques you’re already comfortable with, and preparations that use ingredients you already have around the house or have regular access to. 

You might also consider including a “bridge food,” or a preparation that adds a familiar element to a new dish to help move your child from a known food to a new one (for example: cheesy broccoli as a way of introducing broccoli). 

Some questions to ask yourself as you choose recipes:

  • Are your recipes seasonally appropriate for the time of year?
  • Are these foods your child might see in the cafeteria, or that you would consider cooking regularly at home?
  • Are you able to source ingredients from local farmers or even grow them at home or school?
  • Do you have the right equipment and the time it takes to prepare these recipes?

For easy, kid-friendly starter recipes, try our recommended fall recipes for cooking with kids

What to Cook During Your Taste Test

How should you choose what foods to taste test? Knowing your child’s preferences, restrictions, and willingness to try new things, try these ideas:

  • Sample new or different varieties of one product: Wash and slice different varieties of apples, tomatoes, or peppers.
  • Sauce or seasoning as variable: The product has the same preparation, but you’re testing different complementary flavors. For example, sweet potato wedges with cinnamon versus chili powder. 
  • Veggie vs. veggie: What if you already know there’s a dip or dressing your kids love? Expose them to new fruits or veggies by sampling different products with the same topping. For example, carrots versus cucumbers, both served with homemade ranch dip, or cheesy broccoli versus cheesy cauliflower.
  • Raw vs. roasted: Taste tests can be an opportunity for students to see how much flavors can change when cooking fruits and veggies! Try sliced apples versus applesauce, or raw bell pepper versus roasted.
  • Don’t forget soup!: Soup can be made and refrigerated a couple days ahead if need be, freeing up time for a different preparation of a food.
  • No heat? Salad vs. dip: If a heating source presents a hurdle for you, try focusing on texture and flavor for your taste test, like broccoli salad versus raw broccoli with hummus.

Remember to always follow food safety guidelines and, if cooking with kids, choose age-appropriate ways for them to help in the kitchen. 

Talking With Your Kids After Your Taste Test

After everyone has tasted your dish or dishes, start a conversation using any of these questions: 

  • How would you describe the taste of this food? 
  • What did you like about it? 
  • What would you add to this food in the future? 
  • How were these foods different from each other/from other foods you’ve tasted? 
  • What other foods would you like to try? 

It’s important to note that just trying a new food is a big accomplishment! High fives and verbal praise for trying something new and being adventurous can go a long way. 

Even More Taste Test Ideas

Got your taste test down? Try these ideas to make home taste tests even more exciting: 

  • Try a themed taste test, like testing new dishes for a holiday dinner, a neighborhood potluck, a regular family meal (like Taco Tuesday or pasta night), or the beginning of a new season. 
  • Have your kids develop names for recipes that are being tested! If you find a winning recipe, you’ll get to keep using the name each time you make it. (“What’s for dinner?” “Super Scrumptious Squash Soup!”) 
  • Ask extended family members or friends for ideas on what to taste-test next, like a favorite food from their childhood or a new take on a family recipe. 

This guide was adapted from FoodCorps’ Taste Test Guide for AmeriCorps members. For sample recipes to taste test, check out FoodCorps’ Recipe Book in English or Spanish—remember to modify the yield for your family size!