Proper nutrition is the foundation for children to grow healthy and strong. However, children can have a mind of their own on the definition of proper nutrition. Many of us have said “Goldfish crackers cannot be dinner! You have to eat green vegetables to grow!” While a variety of foods are encouraged, as long as your pediatrician confirms your child is healthy, do not pick a battle. To avoid tantrums and promote adventurous eaters, let’s discuss some normal behaviors, guidelines to increase their interest, and set up for stress free success!
Normal behaviors in children can include unexplained refusal of foods they once loved, not wanting food to touch each other on the plate, and not entertaining any new vegetables, cuisines not common to their household, and foreign flavors in their common foods (nuts in their ice cream).
Start with lesser amounts of new foods. Let them try new foods more than once and wait a couple of days before reoffering the food. Give them choices on which food to try today; children like having control in decisions that affect them. Pair new foods with foods they love. Let them play with their food. Yes, really! Children move, pull apart, sniff, and dissect their food, and that is how they learn and discover! If they move a vegetable around, pull it apart with their fingers, or sniff it, then they are at least getting more familiar with its look and feel.
Bring the whole family into this world of discovery. Be the adult example and eat the new food first to show them you like it. Show them your adventurous side and try something new on your own plate. Consider making a meal more fun by picnicking at the park or in your living room and chatting through dinner about their favorite topics. Making food social with their friends can also help; a friend who grabs a carrot may encourage your child to do the same.
Parents often ask their pediatrician, “How do I help my children expand their palettes?” There are many techniques, including moving through different tastes and textures, especially if they are more sensory focused. A process called food chaining or fading can be a tangible plan for parents. This is when you go from their favorite pizza and progress to pasta with tomato sauce and cheese similar to the pizza. You can then progress to grilled cheese and tomato soup!
Remember, do not stress; children feed off of your stress. If a child really battles over the new food, instead of being a short order cook, ensure your second option meal is something quick. Let’s also remember to celebrate and take pictures or video of accomplishments as a reminder that they liked a new food.