Last week I started us off on my journey through expanding my son’s food choices. Here are the next four tips in my top seven Eating Adventures strategies. Refresh yourself on the first three here!
4) Try again . . . and again . . . and again . . .
Keep this in mind – it takes 10 tries before our brains decide whether we truly like a food or not. So even if your child refuses the food, it is worth trying again. If our son is skeptical about trying something new, we just have him eat one or two pieces and wait until the next meal to try again. However, if the first piece makes him gag, then we know he’s not ready for it to be introduced over and over. We put it on our “try again in six months” list.
5) The first step is just one bite
So this is great advice, but how do you even get your child to take that first bite? Not always easily, I’ll admit. Putting one piece on his small plate reduces his anxiety since he can literally see it will be just one bite. When we try again, I might try two pieces. Or I might up it to six pieces on the plate, depending on his reaction to that first bite.
When he protests, I will tell him he only has to eat three pieces. In this moment, he thinks he has ‘won.’ Or I remind him to close his eyes since that seems to help him take a bite. Sometimes the way a food looks – so new, so strange – is the barrier he needs to move beyond. We have made it a routine to put new foods in front of him, so that it’s an everyday thing. If you can make the unknown, predictable, that is half the battle.
6) Exposure can be a first step
There are some preferred foods that our son absolutely will not try in another form. One is his adored rice pasta. I would love it if he could try plain old rice, but I guess all those little grains are just too weird for him. In this case it is helping him to see us eat rice. I offer it to him each time we eat it. He says “no” and that’s okay; sometimes he needs to feel like he has some control over the situation. I just say, “maybe next time,” which he actually processes as a possibility over time. The fact that rice is present on the table at least exposes him to it as a real food that he may eat someday. Offering a bite each time we eat it lets him know, concretely, that it is also for him, not just for us.
7) Dessert is not a weapon, it is our friend
When I was a kid, without fail, along with my sandwich and a piece of fruit, I always had cookies in my brown bag lunch at school. We also always had dessert after dinner, whether it was fruit or Hostess Ho Ho’s. I learned that because dessert was always a part of the meal, at some point I would get something fun like chocolate or cake. I also learned that it’s okay to have sweet treats at certain times, not all the time. My husband’s mom was a great baker so he has a certain expectation of sweet treats on a regular basis as well. Consequently, dessert is always an option in our house.
We never offer, or take away, dessert (or any other favorite food) depending on whether our son tries the new food or not because we also know this would ratchet up his anxiety, not reduce it. Since my son responds so well to verbal praise (heck, I respond well to verbal praise), we just give appropriate praise when he does try a new food, even if it’s just one bite. If he is not able to take a bite, we always say, “maybe next time” and nonchalantly go on with the meal. The meal stays calm, and dessert is just dessert then, not a big deal.
These are all the dinner-table specific techniques we learned on our Eating Adventures with our son. But the journey doesn’t stop there. We’ve learned a few more things that have also helped the eating process in our home. I will go beyond the dinner table in my next posts.
Join us on February 28 for a class on this topic. more >>
Missed it? Read Growing a Foodie, Part 1