All us parents have experience with children who are fussy eaters. It is part and parcel of raising a toddler.
One week all they will eat is pasta, and then the next week it is cheese on toast. As the primary chef in the house – fussy eating can drive you batty. Part of the reason it can be so hard to deal with fussy eating is that we treat it as all the same. But actually there are two types of fussy eating that each require a different approach to combat.
- Some children will have the much talked about traditional fussy eating. This is like the example above where the child goes through a continual rotation of foods they will and won’t eat.
- The other type of fussy eating is a refusal to try new foods. The technical term for this is food neophobia, which is a fear of new foods.
We are going to look at this fear of new foods and show you five things to really help your child to try new foods.
What is a ‘fear of new foods’?
First, you need to understand that this fear is an inbuilt, evolutionary survival mechanism
Historically – think caveman times – it was in our best interest to be cautious of new foods. We have found that there are certain types of foods that we tend to be more naturally cautious of than others.
Foods that have a slightly bitter taste, which includes many vegetables, were more likely to be poisonous. Protein, in the form of meat, had a greater chance of going rotten and causing potentially fatal food poisoning.
As a consequence young children will often show an aversion to trying these food groups. Once we understand this there are a couple of things we can do to increase the chances of our children trying new foods.
5 tips for getting your child to try new foods
1. Role model good eating
I cannot express this enough. It is so important for your children to see you sitting down and eating the same foods as them. Pretend to steal food from their plate or have extra food on your plate which you can give to them when they ask to try some. Role modelling highlights how important it is to sit down together as a family at mealtimes. Kids need to see you eating the same foods so that their innate survival mechanism will be satisfied that a food is safe to eat. Show them that you eat that food, you enjoy eating that food, and it has not made you sick.
2. Timing, Timing, Timing!
Remember, most of the famous battles in history were won in large part due to good timing. The point here is do not expect your child to try something new when they are under stress. By this I mean that they are: unwell, tired, teething, distracted by something else going on, in a new environment, or overly emotional. Yes, it does narrow down the opportunities you have to try new foods with your child, but you will be pushing a kayak up stream with no paddles if you try to introduce new foods at the wrong time. Pre-plan and make things relaxed.
3. Be careful what you say
Think about how you word things. Even very young children understand much more than we give them credit for. Those little comments daddy makes about not liking certain foods, or the phone conversation you have to your friend about how frustrating your child is at mealtimes – all get heard and taken on board. Children will formulate their perception of foods based off what they hear from those they trust.
‘Dad does not like vegetables, therefore I should not like vegetables’
‘Mum gets annoyed with me at mealtimes – that gives me attention – I’m going to keep doing it’
‘My parents don’t think I’ll eat my dinner, I’m already one step closer to getting bribed to have it or getting my favourite cooked for me as an alternative’
4. Slowly does it
Try not to introduce too many new things at once. For example, if your child has never eaten butter chicken before it probably won’t be a great idea giving them an entire meal of it. However if they eat chicken and rice, you could put a bit of the sauce on a couple of pieces of the chicken. It is important to remember, if your child gags or vomits on the food then take it back a notch. Change the consistency or texture of whatever that food is, or the amount that you are giving them. If they have a colour aversion then offer them different colours of the same food. Won’t eat red grapes? Give them a handful of green grapes with one or two red grapes in there. You can do the same with different coloured noodles, or sauces, or vegetables.
5. Play it cool
So many parents tell me that they pretend to not care if their child tries the new meal that they spent hours preparing. They SAY they don’t care – but their body language tells me otherwise. Children are amazing at picking up those subtle signs we give off. That little look you flick to your partner, the sigh you do as you exhale and remove the uneaten plate from the table. Maybe you start moving your eyes towards the clock on the wall when you think dinnertime is dragging on too long. Whatever it is, children see it, and they play off it. It is not enough to say that you don’t care how much they eat. You really need to sit down at the table and believe that it won’t bother you what they try, or don’t try, that night. Enjoy your meal regardless of what they throw at you (figuratively and literally).
Mealtimes with young children can be very frustrating. However once you learn why they are behaving in a certain way you can start to take the control back. Finally you can be the one calling the shots on what is served up at the table.