Keep Your Child On Track To Become A Lifetime Food Lover
“I don’t want it!” “Eeerrrgggghhh!” “This is yukky, it has brown bits on.” “Muuum – I’m hungry…”
If your dinnertime conversation is like mine, these exclamations might be all too familiar.
I guess he’s a fussy eater, you sigh, dumping the healthy, balanced meal you lovingly prepared and serving yet another Spaghetti Bolognese.
But are you interpreting their reaction correctly? Perhaps they just trying to express their thoughts on food the only way they can?
Let’s think about how adults talk when they’re thinking about food.
We might say, “I don’t really feel like steak tonight, I’d rather have something light.” “This looks weird; are we supposed to eat that garnish?” “That looks overcooked, maybe I’ll send it back.”
Consider the fact that “Eeuurrggh!” and “I don’t like that brown bit” might be your child’s way of saying the same thing, only in words and concepts that they understand?
Until children have the vocabulary and some experience of control over what they can eat, they cannot be expected to clarify their thoughts or make good decisions about trying new things. We have to help them.
Here are some tips to help you create confident eaters and little experimental foodies:
1. The “Always Try It” Rule.
Whenever you introduce a new food or a familiar food cooked a different way, never make it the main part of the meal. Have an ironclad rule that your child must at least try one bite, even if it’s a tiny bite, or simply a lick and a sniff. Then say no more about it, but allow them to eat their meal and leave the newcomer on the plate.
You may be surprised how often, after one try, they will voluntarily go back for more.
2. Never Assume “Yukky” means “Yukky.”
If the problem food is new, or has only been offered a few times, they may simple be unsure. Perhaps they don’t feel like it today, perhaps they don’t like the colour today. Perhaps they have forgotten what it tastes like. Apply rule one and move on.
If the food has been offered many times and is continually rejected, try offering it in a new way or with an accompanying dipping sauce (try to avoid sugary tomato sauce but go for a vegetable dip or healthy mayo or soup).
Apply rule one to the rebranded food.
Nobody likes everything, and you may find that some particular foods are simply not to your child’s taste. But most foods should be – one or two exceptions are acceptable but think about your own tastes. Of the food you encounter regularly, how many do you really dislike? Personally I can think of only three: lemons, pineapple and eggplant. Everything else is fair game – if not a favourite, then certainly unobjectionable. Don’t allow their “Most Hated” list to grow any longer than yours.
3. Involve Your Children
…in every aspect of food preparation, from shopping and choosing from the fruit barrel to preparing and cooking. Allow your child to fill their own plate, or ask them how many peas they want and respect their answer. They will be more likely to eat if they have control over what they get.
4. Never Insist on Finishing
You determine what’s on the menu and when it’s served. Let them determine how much they eat. If they eat nothing, don’t give in to the “I’m hungry” whining. They can eat again at the next mealtime. They made a choice to be hungry by not eating at the designated time – tell them so. Don’t engage beyond that. It will keep you from nagging and it will teach them about consequences. Rest assured: children really will eat when they’re hungry enough. You are not being a bad parent!
5. Watch Your Language
Talk about “yummy green grapes” as you eat them; never say that a colour is yukky or loudly disparage a particular food. Talk about food being healthy for your mouth, your tummy, your head and so on, so that your kids feel they are doing a good thing when they eat.
6. Never Use Food As A Reward
Talk about healthy versus unhealthy foods and how we can eat unhealthy foods sometimes if we’re usually healthy. If you have a tradition of ordering a chocolate milkshake when you go out, great! There’s nothing wrong with occasional treats. Talk about treats as if they are unexceptional, and that is exactly what they will become, rather than something to be craved.
Written by Emily Morgan. Emily is a consultant to business, schools and parents. She helps parents understand the information that science and expert opinions throw out there on various parenting topics, to help them make the best decisions they can. She helps businesses understand the value of their parent workforce and parent customers and helps them to make their businesses more parent-friendly. She also works with schools to improve parent-school relationships. Her website is www.emilymmorgan.com