I received the following question from a parent: "…reading about how "you may have to serve a particular food as many as X times before they will eat it": is there really progress in serving a food if kids consistently DON'T eat it? Like don't even try it / does not go anywhere near their mouth or even their hand? I feel as though I have probably served various vegetables to my son well over a hundred times and he still doesn't eat them, and still doesn't even come close to trying them. And frankly, I wonder how he will ever come to try them since he seems stubborn enough to continue dodging them for many years to come...
I can hear your frustration in your writing. The truth is that there is no guaranteed way that you can get your child to like a particular food.
But don’t give up!
There absolutely is progress…even if they don’t try it!
By seeing the food over and over again, you are normalizing the food for your child. Many kids are honestly scared to try new foods. The more times that they see it (even if they don’t try it), the less scary it becomes. And, by seeing you (and other influential people) eat it, it helps them come to trust the food.
You never know when the magical day will come that your child will try it. If you stop serving it now you’ll never know if it would have been the next time, or the time after that.
Here are some tips to follow to make sure that each time you’re serving these vegetables you’re maximizing the likeliness that he’ll try them:
- Make sure there isn’t any pressure to try (and like) foods. Many picky eaters are sensitive kids. They can feel pressure coming from you a mile away. By preparing and serving foods you’ve indicated that you want them to eat it. Enough said. Instead, focus your energy on enjoying each other during this family time. It seems counter intuitive, but the more pleasant the table experience, the more likely kids are to try new foods.
- Give small servings. A small serving is less intimidating than a large one. If he tries it and likes it, he can ask for more. If he doesn’t, then you’re minimizing your food waste.
- No “one bite rule” (also known as the “no thank you bite”). While the “one bite rule” may work for some kids, it only fuels picky eating in many, many kids. And while it may get one bite of that food in your child today, it isn’t teaching him to like these foods. What he’s learning is to eat to please others – the opposite of mindful eating.
- Allow touching, licking and spitting out. For picky eaters, putting a food in their mouths is a very intimate action. These steps allow a child to ‘get to know’ a food before eating it. Teach your child how to do these activities with good manners (such as spitting food out into their napkin).
And, last but not least, rest assured that even if your child never develops a taste for specific vegetables, he can still have good nutritional health – we humans do best when we eat a variety of foods. There’s no one individual specific food that we must eat in order to be healthy. Which is a good thing because I still haven’t learned to like Brussels sprouts yet (and yes, I do keep trying them). However, an openness to trying different foods is a key (and learned) skill necessary for having a healthy relationship with food. By continuing to present these vegetables, this is exactly what you’re teaching your child. Great job!
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