It’s no secret that having a child is a big responsibility, and it’s likely you’ve heard so-called “horror stories” about parents trying to get their kids to try new foods, or deal with the issue of kids liking a particular food one day, but rejecting it the next.
There are varied reasons why children might be fussy eaters. After all, there are foods that people dislike all the way into adulthood, and it’s largely due to taste, smell and texture, just as it was for them in childhood. And some kids rebel at dinnertime because it’s a power-play.
What also ends up being frustrating for parents dealing with young children is that the children don’t often have the vocabulary to specifically state why they don’t like something, or that they’re not eating something because they’re not hungry. So as parents, adults either take their kids’ not-eating personally (especially if it’s a food the adults like), or they worry that their children aren’t getting adequate nutrition, or whatever other worry adults have as parents.
This article is here to help you, as a parent, navigate this rather tumultuous time in your child’s growing-up years, with tips that can act as a jumping off point for trying different ways to get your child(ren) to expand their culinary horizons.
1) Talk In Terms of Texture, Aroma and Appearance. Many times, kids may not simply reject foods because they taste bad, but because of texture, smell, and the way a food looks. Even if your kids can’t quite yet verbally elucidate in adult-level terms why they’re not crazy about the food that’s put in front of them, you can get a general idea of things by asking:
- “On a scale of 1 to 5 stars, 1 being the worst and 5 being the best, how do you rate the texture/aroma/appearance of (name food here)?” A rating system that mimics our “four-star restaurant” concept allows a child with limited vocabulary to let you know what they think. If they have an initial negative reaction, have them try just one more bite, then proceed with the next question:
- “After two bites, how do you rate the the texture/aroma/appearance?” If you still get a similar negative reaction, then try again later.
2) Keep Reintroducing the Food. It’s been documented that it might take as many as eight repeated introductions to a food before a child is willing to try it. After all, they’re exploring their world, and abrupt change of any kind tends to feel threatening. Remember, there are adults that feel threatened by abrupt change as well, so imagine how a child feels with this emotion running through their minds, especially concerning adults placing unfamiliar foods on their plate. Yes, you want them to try what you’ve fixed, but if it’s something completely new, and they weren’t involved in the choice, and it smells strange to them, they just might take issue with the situation while at the dinner table. So continued reintroduction may help to break down the barriers.
3) Get Kids Involved. One of the most hailed ways to get your kids to try something new and reduce chances of them becoming fussy about something, is to have your child pick something out at the grocery store. And if you want them to follow your example and eat in a healthful manner, stay at the perimeter of the store. All the frozen and sweet goodies tend to be towards the middle. So if you’re planning on preparing a milder version of Pad Thai, for instance, have your child grab at least one ingredient and help you put the produce or noodles in the cart. This gives your child a feeling of “I’m helping Mommy and Daddy decide what to eat” and so they’re more likely to give that Pad Thai a try.
4) Recognize That Your Child Has Different Taste Bud Sensitivities. It’s been well-documented that children have more receptors for particular foods, both in their sense of smell as well as taste, and they may not grow out of a particular dislike. For instance, many children don’t like tomatoes, except in certain foods (like pasta sauce and pizza), and they smell and taste them in their raw form and they about gag. Some are so sensitive to the flavor and smell of raw tomatoes that they don’t even like salsa. Again, this might continue into adulthood, so taking this dislike personally is not really advisable.
Some kids don’t even like meat. One child, for instance, preferred that his mother make beans for him, because he would throw up at the smell and taste of meat, particularly beef. Yes, this is rare, but it does happen, so if this happens to be your situation, paying attention to your child’s reactions and not taking them personally or worrying that they’re “not getting enough (insert nutrient here)” is a key factor in managing your child’s particular culinary choices.
If you research alternate sources of the nutrient you worry about your child getting (which is easier in the 21st century than it was even at the tail end of the 20th), and your child likes that alternate source, then it’s pretty safe to go by the adage of “do what works.”
Ultimately, it may not always be clear why your child is fussy about some foods now and then decides he or she likes them later, especially if your child is still quite small with a vocabulary that’s limited to words like “yucky!” and “yummy.” But just using the above four tips can get you on the road to navigating your child’s new-food loves and loathings.