It isn’t a question of whether or not a parent will say it during a consult, it’s a question of how soon they will say it …….. “I just can’t GET my child to eat —–” …….
In my experience, parents ubiquitously take ownership of “getting” their children to eat a variety of foods. Parents have told me:
“I don’t feel like a good mom because my son only eats 4 different foods. How can he learn and grow?”
“We can’t even go for a meal at a restaurant or friend’s house… what would they think of me?”
It is not your job to GET your child to eat. It IS your job to provide learning opportunities in the kitchen and at the table. You are a food ambassador. A guide, model and teacher of taste. Your role is to educate your child about nourishment, food and mealtime behavior. What your child actually ingests on a daily basis is his responsibility. That responsibility empowers him to listen to his body and eat mindfully.
I’ve also had parents tell me that it certainly is their job to ensure their child’s intake is meeting their growth needs…. unfortunately, short of force feeding, there is no way to make a child eat if they don’t participate in the process. The responsibility of sleeping, pooping and eating fall on the child and the parents role is as a facilitator. A parent can set a child up for success by providing consistent, regular learning opportunities.
Teaching your child about taste may look like:
- Introducing a new food next to a familiar food at a mealtime.
- Talking about the color, texture, temperature, taste, where and how food grows. Talk about what YOU like about a new food.
- Having your child put a beet on his plate, then look at it, touch it, smell it, bite it WITHOUT pressure to eat. Encourage a “learning” side of the plate (where the food doesn’t HAVE to be eaten) and an “eating” side of the plate for familiar foods.
- Depending on your child’s age, you can talk about how food might be changed so it looks or tastes better. You can talk about cooking it with a preferred taste (eg. orange vinaigrette or bacon dressing). Talk about whether it would taste better cut into small pieces, strips or shapes.
- Set the expectation that the new food will be on the table in the future, prepared in a different way. It takes time to learn our bodies and our tastes; just because we don’t like a certain food one time, it doesn’t mean we will never like it.
- Eating without distraction. No toys or screens at the table.
A wise man reminded us to change our thoughts first. Everything else will follow. STOP THINK you have to get your child to eat. The idea that we have to get our kids to eat translates into constant pressure. We are typically unaware of the intensity of that pressure and unfortunately, it has opposite of the desired effect… it actually decreases what a child will try! That inner voice sabotages very good, loving intentions.
A child learns to happily eat when provided with consistent and supported food opportunities that gradually expand his food comfort zone. Repeated, positive food experiences facilitate skill development, confidence and the ability to listen to one’s body.
In order for a child to feel confident around food, the parental desire to push intake needs to be quelled. It is a given that we don’t push a child to walk down the stairs on his own before he has acquired the pre-requisite skills. Similarly, pushing a child to chew and swallow something they aren’t ready for leads to a negative feeding relationship between parent and child. Learning to eat is a complex job that involves far more than putting a food to your mouth, chewing and swallowing.
You are doing an excellent job as a parent if you are offering the opportunity to learn about food. PERIOD.