Having a child who refuses to eat the foods we prepare for them can be very frustrating for parents. Nonetheless, it happens more often then you would think. Here are some practical strategies that can help your child accept new foods.
1. Offer a variety of foods weekly. If we fall into a pattern of offering the same foods every day, whether for convenience or preference, your child will get used to just eating that food. This can lead to the child becoming more particular when accepting new textures or flavors. It is best to give him a variety of foods, not just to get him used to a variety of flavors, but for nutritional purposes as well. Remember if they don't have it on their plate, they are never going to try it.
Tip: Put new foods next to the foods they like and keep the amount low so you don't overwhelm them. This also keep food waste low. It's better they ask for more, if they want more.
2. Respect the meal schedule. If your children are consuming snacks or milk all day, they will get full and will not be hungry at mealtimes. This can cause behavior and cooperation problems when sitting down to eat. As they are not hungry, they will prefer to go play, or do anything else except what is being asked of them at that moment. Sit down to eat. Otherwise, if we respect mealtimes and let our children come to the table hungry, they will sit with more enthusiasm.
Fun tip: Put your schedule for the day in the form of photos that your child can follow. By knowing what to expect, they will be more willing to stick with the routine. We start with a photo of your child having breakfast, the next photo of your child putting on their clothes for the day, the next brushing their teeth, the next going to the bathroom, etc. May these photos serve as the map that will guide your child through your day. After completing an activity, you can go together to put a “check mark” next to the activity. Children thrive on routine, and it will result in more cooperation on their part.
3. Make sure your child has their place at the table, with a chair that provides adequate support. If you are using a chair that is too large for your children, or if their feet are danglingin the air and are not supported properly, it can affect your child's cooperation at mealtime. They must feel comfortable during their mealtimes, otherwise they will prefer not to participate.
Tip: Choose an appropriate chair for your children, in which they have a place to rest their feet. Also, you can let them decorate their chair with stickers of preference and really make it theirs.
4. Be the best example. The most efficient way to promote food for a little one is to see your family eating those foods. If your child never sees anyone at home eating an ingredient, but we expect them to consume it all the time, we are sending mixed messages and it is not fair for the child. If you want your child to eat broccoli, but he only sees you eating junk, he will crave junk more than broccoli. We must send a clear message with our actions. At the end of the day, what counts the most is what we do, not what we say.
Tip: Don't forget to take care of yourself. We parents forget to take care of ourselves and put the needs of our family above our own. But we forget that our children learn from seeing us. How are they going to learn to prioritize their health tomorrow and take care of themselves if they do not see us doing it? They learn personal care from those around them. With each action think, how I would feel if my little one were doing this. They repeat what they see.
5. Create a pleasant and happy environment. If the atmosphere around meals is happy, your children will want to participate with greater enthusiasm. Sing them a song, put on background music, put on a smile, play little plane with their spoon, and show your children how nice it is to eat as a family. Whatever it takes! When your children see that the family members sitting at the table are having a good time, they will want to be part of that party. If you turned the table into a joyous experience and your child still didn't eat, don't be disappointed. I want you to know that the act of sitting together at the table and emotionally connecting is more important than what your child actually ate.
6. Don't pressure your children to eat. If they do not want what you served you can try feeding them again at the next mealtime. Remember that you must keep the environment happy, create a safe space, where your child feels in control of what they eat. Nobody likes to feel forced and lose control. In fact, when your little one feel like someone is pressuring them to do something, their first reaction is to get defensive and challenge them. They feel uncomfortable, forced, unwilling to eat, and worse yet we leave them with an ugly feeling about mealtimes. When it should be a time to feel more united. Let us remove that pressure from the table and remember that it is our responsibility what we put on our children's plates, but it is their responsibility to decide how much they are going to eat.
7. Do not offer a very full plate. When a child sees a plate with too much food they get overwhelmed, and you run the risk of rejection. It is better to serve small portions and for the child to ask for more if they like it. In this way, you waste less food, and they feel less pressure to finish a plate that may be too large for them.
8. Invite them to participate in preparing meals or the table. When our children feel included in any activity, they will be more willing to participate in the event. Feeling included brings feelings of solidarity, achievement, and independence when they finish the assignment you gave them. It is also a great way to get your child in touch with foods that they do not normally accept. For example, if your child does not like apples, have them wash apples. Even if they don't end up eating the apple, the fact that they touched one is considered the first step.
If your little one washed the fruits and vegetables, helped you set the table, cut something, they are likely to get excited when it is time for lunch because they helped prepare it.
9. Get creative with meals. It is all about presentation. There are times your child might not accept certain foods in one way, but in another way they do. Perhaps, they do not want their fruits and veggies in a smoothie, but if you chill that smoothie and turn it into popsicles, they might accept it. Or maybe they do not accept eating broccoli with a fork, but would eat them with their hands, or maybe they want their eggs scrambled and not boiled. Some helpful tips include: using utensils of their favorite cartoons, cutting up meals they do not accept whole, or giving them a whole ingredient instead of cutting it up. The point is to try different versions of an ingredient to see how they are more open to trying them.
The moral of this story is that you do not discard certain foods just because they reject them once. Get creative and offer those rejected foods in different ways. It is a fact that it can take up to 50 tries for children to accept a food that they reject. So consistency is key.
10. Do sensory activities with the foods they do not like. Your child may not accept certain fruits and vegetables. The first step is not necessarily to taste it, it is to come in contact with that food. Let me feel it, hear it, see it, etc. We are working on losing sensitivity to that food by using our senses.
If you are trying a food that makes a crunch when you bite into it, you can make it a game and say "hmm, I wonder who is going to make the biggest noise between the two of us?
If you are trying a food like tomatoes or blueberries you can use toothpicks to connect them and make shapes like 3d cubes.
Playing with food and other textures is highly connected with the acceptance of new foods. Explore sticky things like slime, dry things like rice, wet things like yogurts or sauces, etc.
11. It is best to avoid sweets until your child is two to three years old. But life is not always perfect, there are birthdays, piñatas, events, etc. If your child is obsessed with sweets, it is best to make healthy substitutes at home or offer them a small portion of the sweet they are craving along their lunch or dinner.
We should avoid saying things like "if you eat your food, I will give you your dessert." This makes them see their lunch as a punishment and dessert as a special meal, when in reality it should only be just one more ingredient on their plate. Let us take the dessert off the pedestal. In times when we cannot avoid the candy, the goal is to serve it along side something nutritious. Serve it with their meal and keep the portion small.
12. Do not seat your child at the table until the food is ready. When you sit your child at the table and make them wait until the food arrives, they will get frustrated. By the time you bring them the food, your child already wants to leave the table. Prevent the tantrum and seat your child at the table until the food is ready.
I hope these tips will help you and your child enjoy your meal times together, and always remember your Little Lunches family is always here to support you! Our app provides solutions to picky eating and turns food battles into joyful family moments. Download now and embrace happy dining experiences!
Jessica Facusse, Co-founder, Little Lunches
2 years ago