Could this be translated as both 'They try the food' and 'They try to eat it'?
Only 'They try the food' because 'eten' is the noun here.
'They try to eat it' would be 'zij proberen het te eten' ('eten' becomes the verb and 'het' becomes 'it').
what does the "te" do in that sentence you provided? Is that "to"?
Yes. In that sentence Dutch "te + infinitive" = English "to + infinitive".
Why not "they try the meal" ?
Different meaning. Meal and food are different, although meals are indeed made of up food. :)
Is "They taste the food" a possible solution ?
Has proberen a link with the Spanish probar ?