Kids are notorious for fussy behaviours, one day they like a food, the next they don’t. And the amount of times they screw up their face and declare a food to be ‘yuk’? well, let’s not even go there!
All kiddies will react differently to new or challenging foods and they will all have their own natural likes and dislikes as well as different cultural foods and food availability – just like grown ups!
What’s key is making sure our kiddies have a good relationship with food and there are 5 main things we can do to make sure they love food and meal times. Then we can talk about techniques to getting kiddies trying new foods.
1. Eat at the table, with no distractions (eg tv, devices, books). This helps us to eat mindfully, be aware of what we are eating and focus on our meal. This will help us (and our kiddies) feel more satisfied after eating and help those hunger signals do their thing.
2. Eat as a family. Eating with your kiddies, as much as possible, will allow you to role model good eating behaviours. Kids learn best by copying, so if you regularly show them how to eat and how to behave at meal times, they will eventually follow suit! eating meals as a family is also a great time (and sometimes the only chance in a busy day) to connect with your kiddies, find out how their day was and bond as a family.
3. Keep meal times calm and enjoyable. If you find yourself yelling at the kids over dinner about their table manners or picky behaviours. Take a deep breath and let it go. Being yelled at or being told off, whatever the reason, is going to stress the kiddies out. They will have an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, and their body will go into whats called “fight or flight” mode. Their heart rate and breathing will speed up and they will get less blood flow to their gut and stomach which will reduce their appetite and make it harder for them to eat and digest their foods. We need to be in a relaxed state to eat and digest our foods properly. So a calm meal time is really very essential. I find, there’s at least one child eating well and using their knife and fork well, ignoring those eating with their fingers and praising the child using their knife and fork works wonders to getting all kiddies ‘towing the line’.
4. Remember the division of responsibility. It’s our job, as parents, to provide the types of foods we want our whanau to eat, at the times we want them to be fed. It’s our kiddies responsibility to choose what they eat, out of what is offered, and how much. What we want is our kiddies to be able to listen to their “tummies” to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are satisfied. This means we need them to trust their body of how much they need to eat and of what. This does NOT mean that kiddies get to dictate what food is given, remember that’s OUR job! Which leads us to number 5….
5. You are not a chef and your kitchen is not a restaurant. If your kiddy chooses not to have the foods you have offered, for whatever reason, that is their choice. Refer to point 4. THEY decide how much they eat of what you have offered!
Note: There is a BIG difference between fussy eaters and picky eaters. If your kiddy has one or more of the following:
- eats less than 20 types of food,
- takes more than 20 tries to eat new foods,
- gets overly anxious around foods or new foods,
- has aversions to particular textures or coloured foods (eg, only eats white foods)
- freaks out at having different foods touching on their plate
- shows signs of having trouble chewing or swallowing
- spits out food often (especially breads and meat)
Then your kiddy may be a picky eater and may need medical help to get them eating properly. If you think this sounds like your kiddy, see your GP and ask for a referral or see a private specialised dietitian, who can refer you on to the appropriate services.
How to introduce new foods:
It can take up to 20 tries for a kiddy to get used to new tastes and textures. So remember: PATIENCE, PATIENCE, PATIENCE! No kiddy is going to like all foods, all at once, or ever! So if they don’t love broccoli today, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal. They might decide they love it next week, or next month or even next year. If you have managed to keep meal times relaxed, then your kiddies should be willing to try new foods. The key is to not make a big deal of it. if they get particularly upset about a certain food, don’t serve it to them for a while, but eat it in front of them. They may, one day, decide to try it (because you’ve shown them how to eat it and that it’s delicious).
So how do you get kiddys trying new foods?
1. Try having a “party”. For lunch or snacks, make several small platters of new food, you want your kids to try. This will help to make new food fun and will allow your kiddies to have an empty plate to fill by themselves. This will remove the pressure and frustration felt by kids and their parents, which will make kiddies more receptive to trying out new tastes and textures.
Pictured is our vegetarian party, exploring different tastes like lentil curry, spicy hummus and Thai flavoured patty’s. I pulled out corn chips to encourage trying the dips: salsa and pesto. I added corn and egg plant to the dishes, 2 veges the kiddies find challenging. The only rule? Take 1 bite of everything! which leads us to….
2. The one bite rule! Take one bite and leave the rest on your plate. If even one bit is too scary for your kiddy try….
3. Try giving it to them in a bite sized portion, away from meals. Away from meals takes the pressure off them having to eat it. Small bite sized pieces looks easy and isn’t daunting, like a large plate of food can be. You can pop it on a toothpick or iceblock stick, allow them to lick it or spit it out.
4. Rename it! It’s not pumpkin. It’s squash, spaghetti squash or butter nut. It’s not soup. It’s stew, bouillon, chowder. Works a treat with the kiddies. It’s all in how you sell it! which leads us to…
5. Get down to their level. When encouraging your kiddies, avoid the “or you won’t get dessert” and try stooping to their level. Eat your garlic or the vampires will eat you. Broccoli is great, it makes you fart. The All Blacks eat mushrooms, its how they get such big muscles. Onions give you bad breath, it’ll stop the girls from kissing you. It’s not an egg, it’s a DINOSAUR EGG!
6. Away from the dinner table, talk to your kid about trying new foods. Try a sticker chart, a fun blind taste test or get some friends over who will model good eating!
7. Food is not just about eating meals, its so much more than that. So let’s step back and think more holistically about food. Get your kiddies:
- Helping with the food prep, cooking, reading recipes, choosing meals they want to help make or make by themselves.
- The main types of foods we need to be eating are foods that grow, so get your kiddies gardening, you can grow lots of things in pots or join a community garden, if you don’t have the space for your own veggie plot.
- Avoid negative language around food as it creates unnecessary fear and worry around certain foods. Food is not “bad” or “toxic” or “evil” or “poison” food is just food. If there are certain types of foods you don’t want your kids to eat, for whatever reason, just explain that there are foods you choose not to eat because you don’t like the taste or you don’t like how they make you feel.
- We all get heavily bombarded with food marketing, so teach your kiddies about marketing and food industry an dhow it effects our food choices and health.
How you could explain it to your kids:
Companies want us to buy their products to make money. They use tricks to make us think their product is the best or healthy. For example, “nice and natural” to make you think it’s healthy and cute animal shapes with bright colours, to make kids want it. Or they might put your favourite cartoon on the packet or they might pay your favourite sports star to say that he/she loves that product. Or they might sponsor your sports team.
Take home message?
There are lots of ways we can get our kiddies eating new foods. But what is KEY is developing a healthy relationship with food, this means that they enjoy food, enjoy meal times and have a positive memories ans associations with food and meal times. If this is in place, kiddy’s will eat!