I overheard this little conversation at a fete. A family were queuing at a stall to to buy some lunch.
Girl (about 6 or 7): Can I have a hot dog?
Mum: No, I’m not getting you a hot dog. You didn’t eat any of it last time you had one.
Girl: But I want one.
Mum: No, you’re not having one. Choose something else, please.
The strong temptation with a fussy eater is to play it safe. Stick to the foods you know they’ll definitely eat. We don’t want to waste food or money or effort. We don’t want a fuss.
Isn’t this ironic?
The very thing we want with a fussy eater is for them to eat a wider range of foods. But here’s a girl asking for a food she’s rejected before – actually asking for it – and her mum says no! Maybe she didn’t eat her hot dog last time, but even if she hasn’t eaten one for three years, if we don’t at least give her the opportunity to eat one now, how can she change the pattern? It is the parent – not the child herself – keeping her diet narrow. Keeping her fussy.
I admit a hot dog might not feel like a major breakthrough! It’s not like she’s asking for a whole head of lettuce with a smoked mackerel dip on the side. But it is a food she’s rejected before.
So when your child asks for a food they’ve previously fussed over, don’t refuse. Don’t remind them what happened last time. Don’t say, “Okaaay, but only if you promise to eat it”. Just go with it.
Otherwise you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Have you read Things not to say #3?
I caught this snippet in a pub on a Sunday lunchtime. A boy, about six, was enjoying a roast dinner with his mum and dad.
Boy: [points to cauliflower cheese on his plate] What’s that?
Mum: Cauliflower cheese. Try it.
[Boy turns up nose.]
Mum: You haven’t even tasted it. Just try a little bit, please.
[Boy scrapes cauliflower cheese to side of plate.]
It drives us nuts when kids decide they don’t like something before they’ve even tried it, right? “I have a rule,” parents sometimes say. “They don’t have to eat it, but they have to at least try it.” Like it’s an antidote for fussy eating. Perhaps a cure?
Absolutely, we want our children to try everything. Our goal is for them to be open-minded, adventurous eaters who are happy to taste any new food that comes their way. But making them try everything won’t achieve that. In fact, it will backfire big time. Are they going to go, “Ooh, mummy, I’m so glad you made me try it. It’s delicious. I’m going to eat it all! And every time I see it from now on!”? Are they heck!
Telling them to try something invites them to a battle of wills. Now it’s Us v. Them. We’re the enemy to be beaten. Yes, if we persist, we might ‘win’ and get one mouthful into them – but no more. Worse still, we’ve almost certainly killed any chance of them voluntarily eating that food next time they see it. The little blighters don’t forget!
So what’s the best way to get them trying new foods? Leave it entirely up to them. Children are born curious. They’re programmed to explore and experiment, including with food – as long as we don’t interfere and intervene. So, let’s re-run that conversation:
Boy: What’s that?
Mum: Cauliflower cheese. Cauliflower with a cheesy sauce.
And Stop. Right. There.
Maybe he’ll taste it, maybe he won’t, but the odds are way, way higher!
Have you read Things not to say #2?