So, should we just accept that our young children prefer plain-tasting, beige foods? No, but it helps to understand that it may be a reasonable preference that we should work on overcoming in a gentle way. The aim is to build your child's trust in a wide-range of healthy foods. Here is a quick summary of ways I recommend doing this:
- Let your child 'get to know a food'. This might include looking at it, playing with it, putting it in their mouth and spitting it out again. I can't promise you any of it will get eaten that day, but the process is important for accepting that a food is a safe food.
- Serve your food family style on occasions. This allows your child to choose the foods they feel comfortable with. They will also be able to see your food choices, and this also relays information to them about what foods are to be trusted.
- Serve meals or snacks that can eaten with your hands. Young children love picking up a bite-sized morsel. I think it helps them see all sides of the food and the size is not intimidating for them.
- Expose your child to the cooking process, so they can see exactly what goes into different foods. Play a game at the dinner table that involves guessing what is in a meal. This helps a child to make sense of a complicated meal where ingredients can't be clearly seen.
- Consider serving some meals in a deconstructed fashion, or a build-it yourself style.
- Accept that young children have tastebuds that will probably not accept very bitter tastes (think leafy greens) or very spicy foods. They perceive these tastes quite strongly.
- Always allow children to try a food if they wish, instead of telling them they won't like it. They will learn to trust their first-hand experiences with food.
- Do not make judgments or comments on the foods your child chooses to eat from a meal. I know this is difficult, and some of you may disagree, but I feel the best way to encourage your children to try things is to be a healthy-eating role model and not pass comments on their eating. They are more likely to do what you do, not what you say.
- If your child is protesting over the food on offer, experiment with saying "This is what's for dinner, you don't have to eat it, it's your choice". Removing the pressure seems to help, and they can see you eating the food which communicates to them that it is a food that can be trusted. Young children also love feeling a sense of power and control.
- See it as the parents responsibility to offer the meal or snack options, and the child's responsibility to decide what to consume from the options on that day.
- Even if your child doesn't choose to eat a certain food, continue to serve it up if you want it to be a normal part of your families food i.e.. salads. It will eventually become normal for them too.
- Looking at building a healthy relationship with food is more important than any short-term food consumption. Keep meal times as relaxed as possible.
Keep in mind that there are many other factors that can influence your child's food choices or cravings, including certain deficiencies, dysbiosis, and alterations to sensory perceptions. If you feel your child's food aversion goes to the extreme, it is worth seeing your health professional to discuss possible underlying reasons. This recipe below is a great mild-tasting and 'safe' food to try if you are having battles with your child over food. Make these bites, sit back and let your child squish them all over the table and hopefully eat a little bit too.
500g chicken mince
1 cup cooked rice
1 cup grated carrot
1/8 cup chopped fresh herbs
1 tsp sea salt
2 Tbsp coconut oil (melted)
- Pre-heat oven to 200oC, and line a tray with baking paper
- Place the mince in a large mixing bowl
- Add remaining ingredients, except coconut oil
- Mix thoroughly, using your hands is the most efficient way
- With wet hands, roll into balls
- Dip into melted coconut oil and place on baking tray
- Bake for 20mins or more depending on the size of your bites
Alternative cooking method: You can also flatten the balls in between your palms to make little discs for pan frying. Place the coconut oil in a pan, and add the chicken bites before turning the heat on to avoid sticking. Turn them over and move them often in the first 5 minutes, then cook to your liking.