If you have a fussy eater you'll understand the total agony of introducing new foods. It's as if you've asked them to eat slugs on toast. (I wonder what would happen if I actually did!)
Sadly there isn't a magic cure that will turn your picky eater into an adventurous eater over night.
However, the way we behave as parents can either help our fussy eaters to become more open to trying new foods in the long run or keep them firmly in the "stop trying to poison me camp!"
I am sure that you have tried to introduce new food to your kids and it has gone a little bit like this:
Me: “Ooh! Why don’t you try this yummy new thing?”
Fussy eater: “Ugh! I don’t like it! I don’t want to try it!”
Me: “Well, why don’t you try just a tiny little bite?
Fussy eater: “No!
It’s almost like they put their feet together and go: “No! No! No!”
And then you may have tried something like: “Well, in that case, you can’t have any dessert if you won’t try this little thing.”
Before you know it, it has escalated into this huge great power struggle.
What we are actually doing is making it even more difficult for our children to try new food because they become scared and don’t feel in control.
My golden rule of feeding is not to pressure our kids to eat, not even new foods. It just does not work.
On a side note, I know that some people have the "one polite bite rule". It does work for some people. However, it doesn’t work in the long term and it doesn’t work for the majority of people.
Please don't try the "One Bite Rule"!
Here's why I don't think the One Bite Rule and why we shouldn't pressure kids to eat.
What are we going to do if we aren’t going to pressure our children to eat? How are we going to get them to try these new foods?
There are a few ground rules.
I’m sure you have heard that it takes at least 15 times of willingly trying a new food before your child actually makes up their mind whether they like it or they don’t like it. They might very well decide that they don’t like it.
We are going to be patient. It may take more than 15 times if they’ve had a nasty experience.
It can take years and we have this expectation that children will just suddenly start liking something. I know it can be frustrating. I have seen this with my own eyes.
The frustrating thing for parents is that "in-between time" when we can see that they think they don’t like it, but they haven’t really made up their mind.
One story I always tell is of my child who is now 9. At the time he must have been 4 or 5. He had this idea that he didn’t like mushrooms and I served him mushroom risotto.
(Risotto is a super easy meal and a great way to serve vegetables in a creamy sauce.)
To my mind, it was clearly mushroom risotto. It was brown and had chunks of mushroom in it. I didn’t ring bells and go “It’s got mushrooms in it!”
My little fussy eater tried it and he loved it. Neither the taste nor the texture was so horrible that he didn’t eat it.
He asked for another bowl and loved it.
At the end of that bowl, he realized there were mushrooms in it.
It was like a wall went down and he denied having eaten the mushrooms.
I'm sure he was thinking: “Oh my goodness, this idea of liking mushrooms is so alien to me, I’m going to convince myself I don’t like mushrooms and that I have never liked mushrooms.”
It is frustrating when your kids refuse to even try something that you know they'll like if they just opened there mind to it.
As parents we need to learn to be patient!
What I say to people in my courses is “You know what, you have to have this expectation that they will not try it. That they will not like it.”
You have to stop wanting them to like it. When we start wanting them to like it, we start pressuring and that’s when it goes wrong.
Well, we’re going to make it fun. But I want you to remember that going back to this number 1 rule, don't pressure them to eat or even try the food.
Your aim is not to get your child to like this food.
Your aim is to just enjoy tasting; to think about exploring new foods and new different things.
If you go with this expectation of “Oh my goodness, I have put all this effort into creating this fun tasting session. We’ve been playing this game and my child didn’t like it. I am a failure.”
You have to get rid of that thinking. Think of it in another way. “I put all this fun into creating this fun session and I have bonded with my child. I had a good time with my child and as a side note, they have learned to taste something. They’ve learned about tasting.”
What we’re going to do is think about tasting rather than trying new foods and make it fun. Pick something they really like. For example, yogurt or ice cream.
Have different tasting sessions and little pots that they can try. Things that they are going to like to start off with. You can play the tasting game.
You are going to think about how to describe this food. You can think about how it looks, the color of it, the texture of it, how it feels – smooth or bumpy, how it smells.
All of these things you actually get to putting it in your mouth and invite them to put it in their mouth if they want to. They can think about how it feels in their mouth.
All of these things!
If they want to spit it out, let them spit it out. I know it is disgusting, but find a pot for them to be able to spit it in. You want to be creating a safe tasting environment.
If you force them to swallow something that they don’t like, the next time they are faced with something potentially new, they are not going to try it because they would be scared from that time.
They would think “If I try it if I put it in my mouth, I’m going to have to swallow it.” So, allow them to spit out.
My challenge to you is to think “What does my child really, really love?” Find a way of presenting that in different ways so they can enjoy it and have fun. There are different ways to make it fun.
Toothpicks – my children love toothpicks. You’ll have to do this age appropriately. If your child is going to hurt themselves with a toothpick then don’t use them.
We liked poking peas and putting them on our plate and dipping them into things.
Dips – they are a fantastic way to help your child with new foods. You can use these in 2 ways. You can either take a dip they really love, like ketchup or cheese. Then present them with lots of different fruits and vegetables and you can do it with sweet things if you wanted to.
Vegetable sticks - you can give them different vegetable sticks and they can try the different vegetable sticks. You can also present it the other way around. Take their favorite vegetable sticks and try different dips and see what they like or just present them with everything and see what they find out about different things.
Other exciting things we have done are things like teddy bear picnics. A sort of play environment where it might be the teddy bears trying new food instead of the actual children.
That’s a step away and children often learn through play. You can make it really dramatic as well.
“Oh my goodness! The teddy has just tried something new and it is *cough* disgusting!” or “Oooh! I quite like that!”
Think about ways of playing and making it fun. We like playing restaurants as well where someone can pretend to be the waiter or the waitress and somebody else can pretend to be in a posh restaurant and all the things that they like.
You don’t even have to have new foods. You can try it with new foods or you can do this before the new foods. Try experimenting.
One not to try at home is standing on your head. I tried this with my child once because it was really a demonstration to show that you can actually eat things upside down. Because your esophagus has peristalsis, it works against gravity and we tried it with the new food.
It did work (he tried and ate something new), but I really do not recommend anybody else trying that at home.
Another great way is food pairing.
This goes back to the dips. Take something they already like and present it with something else.
One experiment that people did a while back now is they took celery sticks and they presented them to children. They took celery sticks by themselves and celery sticks with cream cheese on it. The children who liked cream cheese were more likely to eat the celery sticks. You can apply this to anything. You can do it with other things.
For example, when I do baked potatoes, I might do sweet potatoes. Some of my children like sweet potatoes and some of them don’t. Some of them like baked potatoes and some of them don’t.
They all like cheese, so I put cheese on top of all of them. These things don’t work all the time. If they really dislike sweet potatoes, they aren’t going to like them just because I put some cheese on them. But it’s about presenting things and increasing your chance of children liking them.
Not all children grow out of picky eating.
Unfortunately as parents, we don't know when our child will grow out of picky eating but we can "lay the foundation" for them to open up to new foods.
If you continue to offer them a variety of foods and not pressure them to eat, the majority of children eventually become more open to exploring new tastes and textures.
The reality is that it can take years!
I think that knowing how long it can take is reassuring. It's not something you're doing wrong. It's just one of those things!
Keep going! Keep offering them new tasty foods and watch your fussy eater grow into a less fussy eater and eventually a "not at all fussy eater"!
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