Feeding your child can be a frustrating experience. You think that it is important that they eat well (and you are right!) but they may not want to try new foods, making meal times a battle. There are a number of ways that you can start to encourage your child to try new foods.
Yelling and forcing a child to eat something that they don’t like, or are unfamiliar with, will almost never work. Meal times should be pleasant and through the use of positive encouragement your child is more likely to try new foods. Start slowly and introduce one new food at a time. Children are neophobic which means that they are scared of trying new foods and may need up to 10 tastes of the food until they like it and are willing to eat it. Ask them to try a little amount and praise them when they do. Next time add a little more and again praise them when they try it. Overtime the food will become more familiar to them and they will start eating it without you asking.
You might also like to discuss the food with your child. Tell them where it has come from and how your body uses it. A great example is having better night vision (seeing in the dark) and carrots. If they understand that it helps them to be healthy (and grow tall and strong) they are more likely to eat it.
Be a role model
You cannot expect your child to eat new foods if you are unwilling to try them yourself. Children mimic their parents’ behaviour so if they see you trying a new food and enjoying it, they will want to do the same. If you make a fuss and refuse to eat a balanced meal they will do the same and you have no basis on which to tell them off. When you are eating make reference to how good the food tastes and to how well it is cooked. On hearing positive words they are more likely to follow your lead.
It is also important to ensure that all parents in the household are aware of the tactics you are using and that they are used consistently. If one parent works hard to get the child to eat more by being a positive role model, whereas the other does not, it will be very difficult to get your child eating more variety and they use the non-enforcer as a way of getting out of trying new foods.
Getting them involved
A great way to encourage your children to eat more variety is to get them involved in the food chain. They can take part in cooking, choosing recipes, or shopping for food. As them what recipes they would like or to help you do your weekly meal planner. If they are old enough you could even give them a challenge to change a recipe or make one up based on a food. If they are very young they may be able to help set the table or dish out foods. They may also be interested in growing their own fruit, vegetables or herbs. Taking part in this process helps them to understand food and also provides them with very important skills for the future.
Don’t use food as a reward
Avoid the timeless saying of ‘if you don’t eat your dinner there won’t be any dessert!’ Children will start to associate dinner as a meal that they have to eat, but which is not enjoyable. They will also start to see dessert as a reward and may be more likely to use this type of food in the future as a reward food (or a food which makes them feel better). Emphasise to your child that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods – there are simply foods that they should be eating a lot more of, and some that they should be eating less of.
Make meals fun
It is also important to make meal times fun and enjoyable for your child. Make sure meal times are family times. Sit at the table and turn off any distractions like the TV. Discuss your day with your family and encourage conversation. You can also make meal times fun by trying new themes for example an Italian night with homemade pizza, or a Chinese night with chopsticks. Invite family and friends around and make it fun – your child will feel much more relaxed and likely to try new foods.
Meal times do not have to be a battle, make them enjoyable and slowly introduce new food with positive encouragement. It may just surprise you how willing your child is to try new foods when they are presented in a completely different way.