“My child just eats the same types of foods. I have no idea how to get her to eat more variety. What do you do?” Have you heard this before? It’s a question I frequently get asked my moms worried about the health of their son or daughter. I’ve had some great success with influencing my kids to eat a healthy and varied diet. Now I am going to share some tips with you that are not purely about food - they take you a little deeper than that….. to a place that their preferences are formed - not in their tummy but in their mind. Read on to see how we as parents influence their likes and dislikes.
The death question “So do you like it?”
When you introduce a new healthy food one way of killing any chance you have of convincing them this is palatable is to stand there waiting with expectation asking; “so do you like it?” There are two reasons for this:
i. You are framing their reaction. If you were giving them say, a piece of cake, you are not going to show the same level of concern. You’ll just assume they will like it and leave them to it. Kids will pick up on your level of uncertainness and take this as a cue to disapprove if they are not sure about it. Instead try giving it to them and move onto something else. Distract them by talking about their day or an activity that is coming up.
ii. By showing your keen interest in if they like a food you are teaching them that they must first like foods before they choose to eat them. There are many reasons we may eat foods that we do not find pleasurable: health, illness, recovery, politeness, hunger, growth, even boredom. Pleasure is reserved only for certain foods at certain times - like a decadent chocolate birthday cake. I don’t find eating broccoli pleasurable but I eat it for reasons other than taste, like texture, health & variety. Teach your child that foods have many different purposes and benefits. Talk about the texture of crunchy broccoli, how the calcium in it will make their bones strong, and how great it would feel in their mouth when dipped into crunch peanut butter.
But what if they really do not like it?
When introducing new foods the most common response you will be well used to is the stock standard; “I don’t like it”. So how should you respond? Let me show you what I have made some progress with:
i. Agree with them!
Yes you can let them know that it is perfectly ok not to like certain foods. I do this by replying to my daughter with “Yes I don’t like onion either, it has a funny taste doesn’t it?” Then I’ll pick up a piece off her plate and watch her as she sees me take it to my mouth and eat it. I’ll continue with something like; “I’ve never liked onion, not even when I was your age….” I’m waiting for my invitation to manipulate her thought patterns….and here it comes, she can’t resist asking “but why are you eating it Dad?” That’s where I can now plant the seeds in the fertile soil of curiosity I have created in her brain. It’s now that you can talk about why you would eat something that you do not like, all the while continuing to eat that food off their plate. You are showing them their is something valuable that they have, that you are taking it, and it is giving you a benefit that they would like but had not considered before.
ii. Show some genuine surprise
Be prepared to act surprised and then play on a benefit of the food you think they could appreciate “oh wow, are you sure? Your cousin Katie loves mushrooms, she likes how they feel all smooth and soft in her mouth like marshmallows.”
iii. Treat the food with respect.
Have you responded to your child’s refusal to eat by getting angry and throwing the food away in the trash? Remember to treat the food with respect. Let them know that you value the food by treating it as such. So for the above example with the mushrooms after your child is adamant she will not eat them you could follow with a happy; “That’s ok, I’ll put them away somewhere safe, so your Dad and I can have them after you have gone to bed…he loves fluffy mushrooms”
iii. 10X Rule
Don’t give up. It can take up to ten attempts at introducing a new food to a child before he will eat it. Kids tastes change over time. Just because they did not like it last year does not mean they won’t this year. Keep putting it on their plate and give them the chance to leave it. Let them see you and other children eating it. The more normal a distasteful food becomes the more likely they are to eat it someday.