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what it really means to “offer” food

Posted by on Mar 21, 2013 in Blog Posts | 12 comments

mom-baby-fridge-200x150I wrote recently about how important it is to offer foods over and over, to (re)introduce children to variety in flavor and texture.. Later that day, I watched a video on picky eating of a mom “offering” her child options. She stood at the fridge asking, “Do you want noodles? Do you want rice? Do you want cucumbers?” His answer of course to each offer was, “No.” Was this mom really “offering” choices? I think she would say she was…

I realized that it might help to clarify what “offer” means. There are ways to offer foods that will increase the chance of your child branching out, and there are ways to “offer” that will invite almost immediate and certain refusal. There are even ways to offer that cross into pressure, which may invite push-back and increasing anxiety—the enemy to supporting competent eating…


When “offer” isn’t really “offering” and why it matters.

Increasingly, I am hearing from parents of more extreme picky eaters who tell me they “offer” a variety of foods “all the time.” I do wonder if the offering isn’t often much like the mom in the video above?

I think we have to really be clear, and brutally honest. Because I know many parents think they offer foods, but aren’t often making it truly easy for the child to choose to say yes.  Studies show that most parents give up on new foods after three tries. Many parents of infants are pretty poor at actually knowing what foods a child does and doesn’t “like” (see the green bean study). Many parents simply don’t offer foods after initial rejection, thinking the child “doesn’t like” them. My favorite example of this was the client with three boys, with the middle son, age 4, being the most selective eater. When brainstorming about protein, I wondered about shrimp. Mom answered, “Oh no, they don’t like shrimp.” Dad looked at Mom, then at me, “We’ve lived in this house for five years, and we’ve never had shrimp.” In fact her two youngest sons had never been offered shrimp… It’s complex you see.

Take the mom of the child who eats less than ten foods that I talked with recently. She serves him his dinner at the kitchen island with 2-3 of his accepted foods. There are no other choices available set out. She sometimes asks him while preparing his meal if he wants something else. The “offer” is always rejected. Then later, Mom and Dad eat their food at the kitchen table.

What does an honest, no-pressure, make it easy to be brave, low obstacle “offer” look like?

  • Takes place in a pleasant family meal where the parents are enjoying the foods on offer (without comments, bribes or praise).
  • There is room on the plate, or an extra plate or bowl where the child can put the food.
  • There is a paper napkin nearby where the child can spit out the food.
  • The food is within reach, but not placed or pushed onto the child (see post on where to place foods).
  • Avoid thinking of foods in terms of what they “like” or “don’t like.” Kids are fickle, and what they reject one day, or month, they will for no reason pick up again, but they have to see the food again…
  • The child has to have time to throw out the first rejection, or push back, and be met with no resistance, pressure or attempts to convince or coerce. The initial reaction of most children, not just those with sensory issues is “no.” Wait it out (post on waiting out the initial rejection)
  • There must be no pressure to try, or kiss, play with,  lick or interact with the food in any way.

What do you think? Are you really offering a variety of foods? (I had a recent reminder to do this at my own table…) It was around scrambled eggs. Had I asked her if she wanted any, she would have said no, but when I caught myself and put some in the middle of the table, and gave her an extra plate (all without comment) she went on to help herself to a few bites of egg…


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  1. Andrea

    I agree with everything except the last rule. We do have a kiss it rule here, but it never goes beyond that if they don’t like it. We continually offer the opportunity to kiss again (at a later date or even different venue), but never force beyond that. I DO believe that children can have preferences and therefore, don’t believe in forcing them to try things if they jut aren’t interested. On the same token, I won’t eat onions (raw or otherwise), but both of my children love onion rings (EW YUCK). I don’t prevent them from trying new things just because *I* don’t like them.

    • katja

      I guess I don’t see the point of a kiss it rule, but if it works for your family and your children’s temperament, go for it. I’ve written before that these rules have the potential to invite resistance, and conflict and power struggles. I believe that the easy-going child will learn to like new foods without such rules. What if your child felt “forced” with the kissing rule? What if her temperament resulted in battles, and it decreased her appetite and interest in new foods. I just see that outcome so often, that I don’t recommend any kiss it, play with it, blow it, poke it rules…Good for you for giving them access to foods you don’t enjoy! I know oodles of competent eaters/foodies, who had no rules, and who progressed at their own pace. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Eileen

    I run into difficulty with this concept when I am trying to feed my family on a very tight budget. Continuing to offer a wide variety of foods that are usually rejected results in a lot of food waste and a very expensive grocery budget. Do you have any advice on how to handle this?

    • KellyK

      Maybe try to keep the quantity small for things that you’re concerned will be rejected, focus on things that one of the adults in the house will eat, and when possible things you can use later?

      Like, for example, if you want to offer a new vegetable that you like, make as much as or a little more than you know will get eaten, then take a small serving so the kid(s) can try it, but you get seconds or can toss it in the fridge to go in an omelet or something the next day if they pass.

  3. Kristina

    I’m really glad you posted this! I have a similar blog post discussing some of the same conflicts—I think it is really important to realize what we do as parents directly reflects our kids choices. Glad to discover your website! I’ll share this article on my pediatric feeding support page on Facebook!

  4. Elizabeth

    Katya, do you have any recommendations for a kid who doesn’t like to serve herself? Should we just put food on her plate when she asks us to without comment, or ask her to try serving it herself? How about cutting up her meat? I think she’s old enough (at 9) to do it herself, but she really doesn’t like to. She likes us to do anything knife-related, like buttering her roll or cutting up her meat (even if it’s soft enough to cut with a fork).

    • katja

      Great question! And I’ll hedge with, it depends! Maybe start with a small dip spreader to help her spread soft things like peanut butter or cream cheese, have her start “cutting” with a dull butter knife, things that cut easily. Maybe practice outside of meals, like cutting butter while baking, or cutting mushrooms with a plastic lettuce knife. Have you asked why she doesn’t want to cut? Cutting steak is hard, but ask, and see what she says. Have you ever asked her to serve herself? Sometimes I serve M, but usually not. I wouldn’t worry or make a big deal out of it. What I do now that M is 7 (she isn’t into cutting food much either) is if I am eating, or cutting my food, and she wants me to cut something, I’ll say, “I’ll help you, but I’m enjoying my X now, you can get started or you can wait.” See what happens? Maybe take a cooking class together or a kids cooking class if it;s about building confidence with skills? Try hard never to wince, roll eyes, or get exasperated when she spills. Maybe she’s scared of that? I know I have to work hard on not sighing when there is a spill or stain 🙂 I’d be curious about why, mention she’s getting older and you know she can do it, and that you like to enjoy your food too, and maybe ask her what might help? Hope that’s a start!

      • Elizabeth

        It’s variable. She doesn’t get much practice cutting, so she’s not very good at it, so it takes a long time, and then she gets mad and refuses. We’ve had one or two showdowns over cutting up her pancakes for her, which I hate. But once I ask her to do something and she says no, it’s hard not to escalate, especially if she is rude about it.

        For serving, sometimes she will try, and sometimes she won’t. Again, it’s hard to know at any given request whether it will end in her doing it or refusing (possibly with a tantrum). I like the “I’m doing xxx right now; you’ll have to wait a minute if you want me to do it” approach – I will try that and see if it works.

        • katja

          Thanks! Sounds like some skill and confidence building might help. Every family is different, and for some families with strong-willed or sensitive children, or children struggling with behavioral or developmental issues, the “answer” you find will be different, and may differ depending on the day, her and your mood etc! Hang in there!Staying calm is key. If you do decide not to help her, saying it calmly, even in the face of protests may help things not escalate. Good luck and keep us posted!

  5. mealtimehostage

    Thank you so much for posting this. I am learning much about the “offer” and what it really means. One of the toddlers I watch could easily be mistaken for “picky”. She’s not at all. She’s just not the dive into the food type of kid. Without words, there is always the initial rejection, but if I give her the time to inspect what’s on her tray while she munches happily away on something she is comfortable with, eventually she will try whatever I’ve placed before her. The mom is convinced that she doesn’t like green beans. I’m convinced that Mom is partly right. She doesn’t like them… not at first glance, but she usually eats green beans every time I serve them to her.

    I’ve seen patience pay off with my selective eating son as well. The extra time it requires to allow him the freedom to explore and experiment with a new food is worth every single second.

    • katja

      Thank YOU for sharing your experiences! That quiet waiting, and putting attention on other things, maybe other children, or a topic totally unrelated to eating is so critical, for all children; adventurous like my daughter, maybe more cautious like the “picky” girl, and your son with his eating. Kudos!
      I know how easy this all is to forget. My M is with her grandparents, and we made grilled cheese as our entree the other night (I actually am enjoying my cooking holiday) and I said, “Hmm, we haven’t had this in years, M doesn’t like grilled cheese…” (It’s what I had been about to do with the scrambled eggs she “doesn’t like.”) I was pretty thrilled last months when M had a sandwich with bread (she cut off the crust and ate about half.) This kid hasn’t eaten sandwich bread or sandwich since she was about two. Out of the blue, she put together a turkey, cheese and Miracle Whip sandwich. No comments, but I was pretty happy. I’ll have to try grilled cheese again, as I really enjoy them! My clients often share how nice it is to cook again after limiting their own menus to what the children readily eat 🙂
      I love this work! Thanks again for sharing!


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