Now let’s think about the baggage we bring to the table …….
We all want our kids to eat. I get it. For the love of god, just eat. A simple statement yet such a complicated process. We owe it to our kids to appreciate how complex eating is and how much learning has to take place for them to feel confident and comfortable. And appreciate that some kids need more time than others.
I was in Egypt years ago with my husband and we decided to order what we were told was a delicacy, pigeon. About half an hour later, we each received a plate with a whole pigeon on it. It was literally the whole freaking bird. I was completely revolted at the sight of it and managed to look at it, put some on my fork, and smell it. At the risk of being rude, I forced myself to take a bite. Gagging as I chewed, I tried to covertly spit it into my napkin. There is no way that I would order that again. I could maybe be convinced if it was served as a breaded pigeon breast with a bunch of sauce on it to mask the bitter taste. I often imagine this is what kids feel like when a brand new food is placed in front of them. If the sight, smell, and feel of that food looks good there is a chance that they might take a bite. If any of the above don’t appeal to them, I can appreciate why they don’t want to put it in their mouth!
We are crazy if we expect a kid to put a food in his mouth and eat it the first few times we introduce it. And perhaps we also need to re-define what a “new” food is to a toddler/preschooler. You may have offered a food before, but maybe this time you prepared it slightly differently. Your child may not categorize it in his mind as the same food. He has to LEARN that it’s the same. Parboiled broccoli does taste different than roasted broccoli. An expectation to interact with a new food in some form is more appropriate for typically developing toddlers and preschoolers. Looking at it, smelling it, licking it or biting and spitting the piece onto a plate are all SUCCESSES in my book. It may take many exposures at this lower level of interaction before your kid actually consumes a food. One day, I bet you will be pleasantly surprised. Literature indicates that a child needs to be exposed to a food 15 – 30 times before they will consider accepting it. This is as many times as every day for an entire month!!!
Think about the expectations you have at your table.
PS… I have been making spaghetti squash forever and a day because I love it. No one else in my family has ever eaten it and I completely dropped the expectation that they would. I’ve been rejected so many times. However, I typically have the girls scoop some onto their plate whether they eat it or not (they tolerate looking at it and smelling it!). One day, out of the blue they tasted it. Spaghetti squash is now one of their favourite foods. Who knew! I think this was a 50 time exposure but heck, it finally worked.
YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
Take a minute to think about how your feeding beliefs impact expectations at your table.
- Do your kids need to finish everything on their plate before they leave the table? Did your parents make you finish everything on your plate because it was a waste to leave it?
- If your child doesn’t finish what is on his plate, do you serve it for the next snack or meal?
- Did you eat in front of the television when you were growing up or did you have family meals?
- Do you think kids should eat “good” food before they have dessert? Do your kids know what you define as “good” food?
- Do you think a child has to have at least one bite of whatever is served? Do you have at least one bite of everything on your plate when you are served at a restaurant?
- Do you celebrate important events with a meal?
- Do you think your child should eat as much as you say? Or do you think children know when they are hungry or full?
- Do you order the same thing every time you go to a restaurant or do you try something different?
There is a natural script we all fall into at mealtimes. We do what we know or what we grew up with, right or wrong. When things are stressful, we sometimes do and say things we never thought we would. Force feeding happens more easily than you could ever imagine – it’s not just holding a kid down and forcing food into his mouth. Convincing a baby to finish a bottle by jiggling the nipple, despite clear cues that he is finished could be considered on the spectrum of force feeding. So could telling your child that he needs to eat 5 more bites of something before he can leave the table, despite the fact that he said he was full.
Personally, I find myself saying “2 more bites and then you can have a treat” or “2 more bites and then you can leave the table” far more often than I ever intended. I’m actively working on trusting my kids when they tell me they are full. I find it most difficult when I suspect they say they are full secondary to a desire to go play rather than really listening to the belly. I know full well when this happens, they will either want a HUGE snack before bed, or they will wake up hungry in the night. It’s a learning process for all of us.
Take a minute to think about how your beliefs around feeding affect your family mealtime. Maybe there are a couple of beliefs you have to actively work on throwing out….
Morris SE, Klein MD. Pre-feeding skills: A comprehensive resource for mealtime development, 2nd ed. Austin: Pro-Ed; 2000.
Forestell CA, Mennella JA. Early Determinants of Fruit and Vegetable Acceptance. J Pediatr 2007; 120:1247-1254
Carruth BR, Skinner, JD. Revisiting the Picky Eater Phenomenon: Neophobic Behaviors of Young Children. J Am Coll Nutr 2000; 19 (6): 771-780.