“The kitchen is the heart of the home.”
If you heard that expression before you had children, it probably conjured up an idyllic scene of a family with young kids, happy and smiling around the table, enjoying a family meal. In this scene, the warmth and enjoyment of the family time spent together relaxes and rejuvenates the entire household.
Now that you have kids, this scene might seem like a fairy tale.
Welcome to the home of picky eating! For many families, the kitchen has become a frustrating battleground rather than a warm and cozy heart. Nearly 50% of parents say that they’ve had a child with picky eating.
If you’ve done any of the following, you know what I’m talking about:
- Bribed your child to eat
- Forced your child to try a new food
- Withheld dessert until your child has eaten dinner
- Tried to hide or disguise veggies into other foods
Getting the family together for meals at least a few times a week is important but with busy work schedules, kids’ activities, and then picky eating on top of it all, sometimes it all seems to be too much. But there’s good news for struggling families. You can shift this difficult situation from frustration to joy. You’ll see benefits not only in the short term, but the long run as well. Setting kids up for eating success when they’re young will reduce the risk of chronic disease as they grow older. Here are a couple of tips to flip the script!
How to put the joy back into family meals
Repetition brings relaxation.
To become familiar enough with a food in order to want to taste it, a child needs to be exposed to the food over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.
Did you get that message? I’m worried that if I just said “over and over again,” you might think you should offer food a FEW times. Try 12-15 times!
Surveys show that parents often give up offering a new food to a child once it’s been rejected three times. That’s not nearly enough. The required level of repetition will try your patience, but if you put those new foods on repeat (and I seriously mean repeat), it will pay off.
Take a real-life example of a child who only liked raw carrots and would never touch snap peas. For his school lunch, his mom would pack several baby carrots and one snap pea. For ten months that snap pea came home untouched. But one day the boy decided to try it, and he loved snap peas forever after! Patience and persistence will win in the end.
Choose a couple of meals and commit them to be repeated week after week after week. For added exposure get the kids involved in planning, shopping, and prepping for meals, too!
Always include a safe food
When I traveled to Cambodia, the food markets were filled with stalls of people selling fried tarantulas and other insects. As a Canadian, the thought of eating one of those really turned my stomach. It was completely foreign to me.
Can you relate? Can you imagine showing up to dinner where the only food you’re served is a fried spider? Wouldn’t that be a fairly negative experience? It could be potentially traumatizing if you were forced to eat it.
When kids show up to dinner and there’s something completely new on their plate, it’s as foreign to them as eating spiders! No amount of encouragement from you is going to convince them that eating this foreign substance is a good idea. Forcing them to eat it is a good way to give them negative associations with that food, meaning they might never learn to like it.
So, to make sure your children don’t feel pinned into a corner, always include a food that they accept at least 50% of the time. This food will make them feel safe. When children feel safe, they feel braver. When they feel braver, they get more adventurous. And an adventurous kid just might decide to take a bite of “foreign” food.
Repetition + Safety = A Comfortable, Cozy Kitchen for Kids
Your kitchen can become the warm, joyful heart of the home that you’ve envisioned. It just takes patience, persistence, and a new mindset. Repeat new foods for your kids, and serve them in a safe setting, along with foods they already accept. This is your recipe for success.
Jessica Penner, RD
Jessica Penner is an Dietitian Entrepreneur who conducts store tours at the St. James store in Winnipeg. She loves the enthusiasm from the kids during school tours. She has two young boys and is passionate about helping parents raise Happy Healthy Eaters. You can follow her on Instagram for tips on feeding babies, toddlers, and picky eaters. For easy meal solutions including freezer cooking and meal planning check out her blog at Smart Nutrition.