How to expose your fussy eater to new foods – does and don’ts

How to expose your fussy eater to new foods. do's and don'ts 03
Apr
How to expose your fussy eater to new foods. do's and don'ts

How to expose a fussy eater to new foods is the question many parents ask. The reason for this is that fussy eating is a common problem among children, and it can cause a lot of frustration and concern for parents.

Exposure to foods is one of the most effective ways to encourage fussy eaters to try new foods, but it can be tricky to know how to go about it. In this blog, we will discuss effective exposure techniques for fussy eaters and also cover counterproductive techniques that you should avoid.

How to Expose a Fussy Eater to New Foods

An exposure is an opportunity you give to your fussy eater to see and perhaps interact with a new food. Over a period of time and after several repetitions, as they recognise the food, they may be prepared to eat it.  It is important to remember that it can take numerous exposures for children to become confident with new foods and acquire a taste for them. In fact, research has shown that children may need to try a new food anywhere from 5-15 times[1] before they develop a liking for it. By consistently exposing children to a variety of foods, parents can help them develop a broader palate and improve their overall diet quality. It’s also important to keep in mind that children’s taste preferences can change over time, so it’s worth revisiting foods that they may have previously disliked. By using effective exposure techniques and being patient and persistent, parents can help their children become more confident and adventurous eaters over time.

How to Expose a Fussy Eater to New Foods – Asking your Child to Taste a Food?

Taste and flavour preferences, as well as managing food textures, often require practice and exposure over time. It is important to remember that every child is different and may take varying amounts of time to develop their palate and acquire a liking for new flavours and taste. Bitterness for example is an acquired taste, as opposed to sweetness which humans innately like at birth. For some families, asking a child to sample a small amount of a new food may be an effective technique, while for most of the families I work with, it can lead to more anxiety around trying new foods. In those situations it is best to lead by example.

Exposure Techniques – Things to Do

  • Lead by example: I have explained what effective modeling is here.  Modelling can be a powerful tool in encouraging children to try new foods and develop a sense of curiosity and openness towards different flavours and textures, without feeling pressured. Children watch and mirror parents. It is a “do-as-I-do”, not a “do-as-I-say”!  Parents can model tasting a small amount of the food themselves by cutting a small amount into “speckles” and placing those alongside the dish.

  • Make it fun: Children are more likely to try new foods if they think it is going to be fun. Prepare a fruit platter using cookie cutters. Involve children in meal preparation and presentation to make the process more engaging. Direct mealtime conversation into engaging topics, away from eating.

  • Offer Variety: Introducing a wide range of foods can help fussy eaters become more comfortable with new tastes and textures. Offer your staples, such as bread and cheese, or pasta, along with the main dish. Children need to be reassured they can eat enough, before they engage with new food. Keep all the food on the table until the end of the meal, so they can have a go. I often see children have a go at the main dish, after they had desserts.

  • Avoid pre-plating: Children do well to lean forward and serve themselves. Family type of serving as I explained here is conducive to children showing their readiness and having a go, when you least expect them.

  • Be Patient: It can take several exposures to a new food before a child is willing to try it.  The fact is it is not about a parent’s logic understanding about food. It is about a child’s readiness and confidence to have a go. It is important to keep offering the food without making it an enemy. Here I explained what is harassment by peas!

Cookie cutters for little chefs
Kid love to use cookie cutters in the kitchen

Exposure Techniques – Things Not to DO

  • Forcing Foods: Forcing children to eat foods they are not ready to eat can backfire and create more resistance to trying new foods. If a child is feeling pressured to eat something they do not want to, it can cause mealtime stress and anxiety. Children who really struggle but are compliant may have a go at a challenging food under duress, only to gag or vomit later. It is not worth it.

  • Bribery: Offering rewards for trying new foods can also be counterproductive. It can create a negative association with the food and imply that it is something they should not like[1].

  • Negative Comments: Criticising a child for not liking a food or making negative comments about the food can also be counterproductive. It can create a negative association with the food and make the child less likely to try it again.

  • Overwhelming Variety: While it is important to offer variety, overwhelming a child with too many new foods at once can be counterproductive. This can cause stress and anxiety, and make the child less likely to try any of the new foods.

  • Hiding Foods: hiding new ingredients into familiar dishes can also be counterproductive. While it may appear like a good way to get your child to eat more healthy foods, it can create distrust and make your child more resistant to trying new foods in the future. Remember that trust is your only currency in feeding.

Now that you know  to expose your  fussy eater to new foods, mealtimes can be fun and relaxed, you can offer variety, lead by example, and demonstrate patience. On the other hand, counterproductive exposure techniques should be avoided. These include forcing foods, bribery, negative comments, overwhelming variety, and tricking your fussy eater by hiding ingredients in food. Remember to be patient and persistent in offering new foods and creating a positive, stress-free environment at mealtime. If you find that you are struggling then why not talk to me to see if and how I can help your family overcome fussy eating?


[1]

Nicklaus S. Children’s acceptance of new foods at weaning. A review. Appetite. 2016;96:554-561. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.10.012.

[2]

Deci, E. L., Koestner, R., & Ryan, R. M. (1999). A meta-analytic review of experiments examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 125(6), 627-668. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.125.6.627

 

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