I’m sure you can recognize the problem eater. He’s the kid who plays with his food as he tries to avoid eating his vegetables. She’s never tasted broccoli before but is convinced that it is disgusting. The child who slams her mouth shut at the sight of meat on her plate. From day one she refused to have any part of it. The finicky eaters in a household can turn mealtime into a battle of wills and a marathon of pleading and cajoling.
The funny thing about these kids is that their food aversions can appear out of nowhere at any age. I know of a little girl who could down hot peppers like a champ when she was a baby. Everyone was amazed at her capacity to handle the spice bombs. Another child I know enjoyed sucking on lemons when she was small. Not just a taste mind you, but really sucking on them. It makes me pucker remembering it. I’ve seen kids who can stomach some foods that I would turn away from in a heartbeat – stinky cheeses for example. They relish the taste. Good for them… And then all of a sudden the day comes when they don’t like certain foods anymore and may not want to try new foods. Whether food fussiness is a new trait or one that has lingered for as long as you can remember, it is important to try to get those children to demonstrate a leap of faith and give those “undesirable” foods a try. Like the lottery – you never know, they just might like it. In that case you’re both winners.
Here are some suggestions - tactics to employ:
- Start with small portions of the new food. A bite or two is sufficient. All you want is for your child to give it a try. It should not be your intention to convert them into eating this item at every meal. All you want is a taste. Give it a try. If they spit it out, no repercussions. Baby steps… give it another try or wait for another mealtime.
- Be aware that moving the new food item around their plate is their way of distracting you. You’ll notice it. Don’t scold them for it – instead keep reinforcing that it would be great if they would just give that item a taste.
- Once you’ve had success don’t be surprised if the next time it turns up on their plate they revert back to protesting that they don’t like it. Maybe it’s been a while since you served them some beets and they can’t remember how it tasted. For them, it’s brand new and that explains the closed mouth scenario. Explain that this isn’t the first time they’ve had beets and ask that they try it again.
- Show them the food item tastes good. Taste it yourself and let them see how much you enjoy it. If they have siblings show them that their brother or sister likes this food item.
- Realize that it may not be the food item they don’t like, but instead the way it’s cooked. I know someone who sweared he hated certain vegetables and meats. But after someone else (me) made them for him he realized that they didn’t taste all that bad. Keep that in mind. Maybe the food isn’t prepared to their liking – too spicy, bland, over-cooked, under-cooked, covered in a gravy they don’t like, having a texture they find unusual.
- The flip side of this is that you can camouflage foods they think they don’t like with sauces, spices, breadcrumbs or incorporating them in a recipe.
(A winner in my family is melting some butter in a pan and then adding breadcrumbs. Mix the butter and breadcrumbs together. Sometimes I add chopped up almonds to the mix. I put it on top of cauliflower as a garnish. I also add it to cooked egg noodles. Always a hit!)
- Have a regular routine for meal times. Let your child know that this is when we eat dinner and we are all going to focus on our meal. No toys, t.v., crafts are involved. It is our time to eat. Hopefully you’re eating as a family too.
- Allow your child to participate in the food preparation. Sometimes a sense of pride in making a meal will promote a desire to eat it that didn’t exist before.
- Praise your child for trying new foods. Reinforce how much fun it is to find new things to eat.
- Offer dessert for finishing up their meal. Note – only for finishing the meal.
- Realize that a food aversion can be fleeting. Sometimes it’s a matter of age. They outgrow it.
- Notice if their dislike of certain foods might be associated with the friends they have. If my friend hates potatoes then I hate potatoes too.
- Educate your kids about where food comes from. A trip to a local farm or a garden in your backyard let’s them know where that tomato comes from. Helping tend a garden or pick your own from a local farm involves you child in the process.
Whatever you do…
- Don’t turn mealtime into a confrontation on a regular basis. This will only reinforce a child’s dislike for eating.
- Don’t force your child to clean their plate. A powerplay like that makes you a bully and isn’t letting your child realize if they like a food item or not.
- Don’t allow yourself to become a short order cook. Your home is not a restaurant. The meals you’ve planned are the meals everyone in the house will eat.
- Don’t worry if your child refuses to eat a meal. They won’t starve.
- Don’t allow your child to skip the meal and move on to dessert thinking that “at least he’s eating something…”. Meals first, then a reward.
- Don’t allow your child to fill up on beverages at mealtime. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a child ask for milk – once, twice, and again. All the while not touching the food on their plate.
- Don’t allow snacks after a meal if they don’t eat. Kids are great at getting out of a meal they don’t want only to come back an hour or so later and proclaim how hungry they are. “Can I have a snack?” Remind them that they didn’t finish their lunch. As long as the food is still o.k. to eat I’ve offered the opportunity to finish that meal if they find themselves to be hungry.
If you’re the parent of a finicky eater it’s important not to engage in mealtime battles. You know your child best. Combine that knowledge with patience and some thoughtful “tricks” and hopefully you can encourage your child to give that asparagus a bite. Know that most kids go through a phase where they think they don’t like certain foods or are stubborn to give new food items a try. Be mindful of the fact that your child truly may not like a certain food item. That’s okay. Let some time pass and then introduce it again. The second time may be the charm. Whatever you do, keep mealtime fun. It’s when family gets together to talk about their day, enjoy the food that’s been prepared, and most of all enjoy each other’s company.
If you’d like to read more about getting your child to try new foods, I’ve pulled some links for you to check out:
- Children’s Nutrition: 10 Tips for Picky Eaters from the MayoClinic.com
- 10 Ways to Get Kids to Eat Healthier from Gaiam Life
- How To Get Kids To Eat New Food from My Kitchen Nutrition
- Getting Your Kids to Try New Foods, Eat Diversely & Make Better Food Choices from Fork & Bottle: Eating With Your Kids
By Gret Boyd