But…I don’t LIKE it!
Eating is a sensory adventure, involving our senses of taste, smell, texture, appearance and even sound. We subconsciously record our early sensory experiences with food. We also associate our food experiences with life events. For example, if meal times are structured and comforting…we form positive associations with the food eaten and the environment.
However, if mealtimes frequently involve power-struggles, hurried schedules and lack routine…we develop negative associations with the food, the meal, the cook, or all of the above.
Countless times I have seen moms and dads offer their little one (or even an older child) a new food, a new dish, or a new taste of something. At the first look of “surprise” to this new taste in their mouth (which usually involves furrowed eyebrows, shaking the head, or something along those lines), the parent says “…you don’t like it?”. What do you think little Johnny remembers and keeps uttering: “I don’t LIKE it!”. Why? Mainly because he needs to try it several times before he accepts it, and also because YOU reinforced that he doesn’t like it!
How you handle mealtime struggles can make a world of difference.
Use these tips to turn struggles into learning opportunities:
Educate you child’s palate to enjoy real food. Parents must understand and respect that their children have likes and dislikes, just like they do.
Do not force your child to eat a food that he really dislikes. Resolve to try it again, another day. According to experts, it may take up to 11 tries for him to accept it.
From the age of about 1 year, provide your child with a variety of textures, tastes, mild spices, and various food presentations. It is common for a child to refuse entire food groups – this is usually just a phase.
Find out if time, mood, illness, or other people influence your child’s food choices.
Toddlers have limited means of exerting control over their environment. They become sensitive to their parents’ reactions and learn that they can manipulate a situation by accepting or refusing food. Provide your toddler with variety…before they enter the “terrible twos”!
Already there? Stop worrying – healthy children will not starve themselves.
Toddlers have different appetites - they tend to eat more just before a growth spurt and less during.
Do not allow toys or distractions (phone, T.V., doorbell, etc.) while eating.
Juice, milk and other drinks consumed with meals will fill small children up quickly, leaving them hungry again soon after. Water is the only beverage that should accompany the meal.
What if you create a culinary masterpiece – and your toddler won’t try one bite? Prevent a food war by having healthy snacks and finger foods available.
As you prep your main course, leave out some single ingredients and prepare these simply for your toddler. Many tastes and textures in a mixed dish are refused because of their complexity. Small bowls with one or two ingredients each are often accepted over combinations. Since vegetables are most often refused, try these tips:
Sweet veggies are winners: carrots, red peppers, sweet potatoes, yams, squash, pumpkin, peas, and corn-on-the-cob. Breast milk is naturally sweet, so this taste is well developed.
Avocado, apple, pear, apricot, pineapple, mango and papaya are fruits that will “sweeten” the taste of more bitter vegetables, when added to raw dishes or soups/sauces.
Use one of the sweet veggies above as a base for soups or sauces.
Grate cucumber, zucchini, or carrot into sauces or soups, or use for garnishing. An in-expensive spiral slicer can help you make amazing “noodles” out of these veggies!
Experiment with thick soups: pumpkin, leek, borscht, minestrone, and split pea.
Soft veggie rollups: shredded veggies, hummus or yoghurt, rolled in a wrap and cut bite-sized.
Offer veggies as a first course with healthy dip. They are more likely to eat them if hungry.
Sneak seaweed flakes, ground flaxseed and pumpkin oil into healthy homemade dip.
Curries, stir-fries and stews (ethnic dishes): start with these between 12 and 18 months. Keep it simple, with no more than 3 colours, 3 tastes and 3 textures per meal.
Everyone has a different opinion. Ask 10 food and nutrition experts about feeding your child, and you’ll get 10 different answers! Aim for providing the best food options 80% of the time…and you really will be doing your very best!