I 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…