A child's life is full of discovery. And one of the primary places that discovery happens is on their dinner plate. Textures, colors, tastes, smells, and even a few rare sounds – food satisfies all the senses in the body at once. Talk about sensory paradise! So with all these new experiences for kids to literally sink their teeth into, why do they insist on the same macaroni and cheese for months on end?
Truth is, children often turn up their noses at foods just because they can. It's part of the power game – they need to feel they have some control over their bodies. Parents may get to take care of the outside with all that washing and dressing, but many kids figure that they can decide what goes on the inside. So they lock their jaws shut with an innate strength only a crocodile could admire, barring all entry.
Despite the struggle, the nutrition wars are worth the effort. Trying new foods can foster the timid to broaden their horizons and give them a safe arena to experiment and discover the world. As a parent, you can facilitate that exploration. It all comes down to how you present things. Here are three suggestions for getting your child to push the peanut butter and jelly sandwich envelope:
- If they ask for it, let them have it.
If your daughter has been eyeing the scallops on your plate for half an hour and finally asks, "Can I have one?", reward her initiative with a sample. Don't dissuade her with reason ("It's probably too fishy for you," or, "No way! These things are expensive!"). Unless there's a food allergy to consider, give her a small taste.
- Start a policy of "Just one bite."
Some assurance that it's a mouthful rather than a plateful of parental expectation might bring out the adventurer in your child. If it's spat back out, don't scold; praise your child for "being brave and trying something new." And on the rare occasion that you hit pay (culinary) dirt, and your kid says they've found a new favorite, don't forget to say you're proud. A few words of encouragement go a long way. And the best part is, you can play this winning card over and over again, any time they resist another new food: "Remember how you thought you didn't like beets, but then you decided you did?" Which leads to the corollary: Don't force it. Nothing like a power struggle to turn the most tempting morsel of shrimp into an impaled pink worm on a fork.
- Try again later. Maybe much later.
Fried calamari might not go over well the first time your son takes a bite. Maybe a few days, or weeks (or even months) later, it'll smell too delicious and greasy not to try again. Let him decide when he's ready to give it another go – it's his adventure, after all.