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How to Help Your Picky Eater Accept New Foods: Part 3

This week’s blog completes my 3-part series about how to help your picky eater to accept new foods.

In Part 1, I discussed how children learn to accept new foods through a sensory hierarchy of looking, touching, smelling, kissing, licking, biting and spitting-out, and eventually chewing and swallowing. In order to help your child work through these steps, your job is to provide repeated exposure to new foods in order for your child to learn about them.

In Part 2, I shared information about the child vs caregivers’ role at mealtimes. I provided actionable 10-tips to help your child work toward food acceptance.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of the steps children go through when learning about new foods along with your role as caregiver to help your child be successful.

Now for Part-3. Here’s how to keep the ball rolling and continue to encourage your child to explore new foods.
The Set-Up
  • Don’t present too many new foods all at once
  • Offer new foods along with familiar foods
  • Start with a food that is the best sensory fit (e.g., white, crunchy, round)
  • Offer the food on a daily basis
  • Place the food where your child can tolerate it (e.g., separate bowl in close proximity to child)
  • Avoid any expectation or pressure to eat/try the food (see below)
  • Model enjoyment of eating the food during family meals
  • Use stories or books to teach about the food
Ways to encourage your child to interact with a new food instead of saying “try it” or “take a bite”:
What to Do
  • Describe the properties of the food (red, wet, bumpy, crunchy, squishy)
  • Describe your own interactions with the food
  • Create new way to try or interact with foods (red pepper moustache, peek-a-boo cucumbers)
  • Your choice of language is important in helping your child accept new foods. Give choices of two acceptable options versus asking yes/no questions (see below)
  • Talk about how the food is like other familiar foods
  • Encourage your child to "help" by passing or serving food to others
What to Say
  • “This pepper is red and crunchy like an apple!”
  • “Can you pass this cucumber to Mom please?”
  • “Do you want a red pepper or a cucumber on your plate to look at?”
  • “Which do you want to touch FIRST, this (banana) or this (grape)?”
  • “Do you want the BIG (cheese) or the LITTLE (cheese)?”
  • “Do you want your (smoothie) in THIS cup or THAT cup?”
  • “Can you pick up that piece of waffle with this toothpick or your fork?”
  • “Can you make this cracker CRUNCH?”
  • “How LOUDLY (or softly) can you crunch?”
  • “Which SIDE do you want to crunch that cracker on?”
  • “Can you bite the Goldfish’s tail off?”
  • “I can DIP my pasta in this sauce!”
  • “I can put shark teeth marks in this cheese. Can you make shark teeth marks?”
  • “Do you want to lick the (yogurt) off the spoon or the fork?”

4  R’s of Feeding

REPEAT
REDUCE
ROLE-MODEL
RELAX

REPEAT: Evidence shows that kids need to taste a new food 15-20x before they know if they like it or not. Research shows that the more times kids are exposed to a new food, the more likely they will learn to accept it.

REDUCE: Studies show that pushing, tricking, forcing, and bribing kids to eat does not work. These tactics actually reduce a child’s willingness to try new foods. Successful feeding is built on trust. Work toward avoiding mealtime power struggles.

ROLE MODEL: Your child learns so much from watching you. As a parent, you are their ultimate teacher. Always eat with your child. Why not model your own journey toward learning about a new food? For example, you could talk to your child about the fact that you don’t like to eat mushrooms, but you want to learn about them. You could model putting the mushroom on a plate nearby and over time move the mushroom onto your dinner plate alongside your other foods. After a couple of weeks, you could pick-up the mushroom and describe how it feels soft and slippery. Next you might model smelling and licking the mushroom or taking small bites and spitting it out. In time you could model eating the mushroom and talk about how you have learned about mushrooms and how you enjoy eating them.

RELAX: Easier said than done, I know. If your child senses that you are stressed at mealtimes, he/she will feel stressed too. Mealtimes are so much more that taking in calories. They offer an opportunity to come together, communicate, socialize, and share values and culture. Mealtimes are about giving and receiving love.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
– Lao Tzu

Try to recognize that the journey toward accepting new foods might seem long and treacherous, but with time, positivity, and repeated exposure your child can make progress. Find opportunities to learn about new foods outside of mealtimes in a fun, relaxed way like cooking, playing with food, or reading books about food/eating with your child. Remember to take a moment to acknowledge your fears and feelings and to celebrate and praise yourself for what is going well.

 

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