By Deb Hurowitz
Being a parent is hard. So is being a kid. I’m here to make it easier for you both.
Kids are funny. One day, they love a food. The next? They won’t go near it. As parents, this can be maddening!
This week, I will address a couple of issues for toddlers and older:
- When your child refuses all but a few select foods.
- Ideas on how to grow your child as an adventurous eater.
You swear, when pregnant, that you won’t have a kid who only eats chicken nuggets or fish sticks and French fries. Or that they will eat more than carrot sticks as a vegetable.
You are certain your child will happily eat broccoli, steak, soups any any of the other things that you and your partner enjoy.
You hope that they will learn to love all the types of foods that you enjoy. You may plan to serve what is being served, and if they don’t want it, there will be another meal in a few hours.
And for some families, and some kids, this works out.
But for the majority? Your kids have their own palates and ideas about what makes a healthy plate.
If your child wants to eat the same things over and over again, consider if it has any nutritional value. If it does create a balanced plate, then try to let them. You can add the caveat that there will be other foods, and an expectation that they will try them. You can define the parameters that work in your family:
- Shark bites.
- Three tastes before declining.
- One bite of each new item on the plate before you can have seconds of the preferred foods.
Most children will come around to trying new foods. Eventually.
It takes patience and perseverance, and not making a fuss if they claim they don’t like it.
Science says that it can take more than a dozen exposures to a food before someone is willing to eat it.
I recently learned that children’s taste buds are more sensitive than adults, which makes it easier to understand why they stick to the known. It also clarifies why certain flavors that you may enjoy cause them to make terrible faces!
Put the food on the plate. Make sure they know that your expectation is that they taste it. But once they do, let them decide whether to finish the bites you put on their plate. One of these days, they may ask for more.
So now your children have a variety of foods. Sort of. They eat pasta (maybe even ravioli or tortellini), but not sauce. They eat chicken fingers, but not plain chicken. They eat carrots, cucumber and red pepper, but not a salad.
As a parent, this may be fine with you. You may not mind making separate meals or separating ingredients. But you may want to help your child become a more adventurous eater.
I am a huge proponent of asking your kids to help in the kitchen. It may be slower or messier than if you do it yourself. However, kids (and adults) are more likely to try foods that they have had a hand in creating. Be willing to let them taste the ingredients as they go in. Let them experience a sour lemon, bitter unsweetened chocolate or salty soy sauce.
In my family, and now in friends’ and clients’ homes, we have found that cooking shows have encouraged children to try new things. Similar to letting them play with food in the kitchen, seeing master chefs play with food – and admitting that they may have never tasted or even seen some of the ingredients – can be extremely motivating for some children. Watch the show together. Talk about how they create different flavors and textures with the same ingredients. And then get in the kitchen and let your kids create.
- Exposure to different foods.
- Exposure to how foods can be prepared.
- Being the sous chef (as a toddler, or young child) and eventually the chef.
All of these will help create a more adventurous eater over time.
Please keep in mind that I am not addressing families that are dealing with allergies, or sensitivities, or other complex food issues. If you would like to talk about more specific situations, please contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Deb Hurowitz holds a Master of Social Work (MSW) from Boston College. She is also a mom to two wonderful children who like to show her that no matter how much she knows professionally, being a mom is still hard work! You can learn more about her practice and current groups at http://mommybutstillme.com.