Don’t use the L word!
Lettuce? Liver? Lumpy? What even is the L word I’m talking about?! It’s: “like”
Yes, this little, four-letter word may look and sound harmless enough, but whether you use it in a positive or negative way (like/don’t like) around food and mealtimes with your children, it’s a v. bad word. And you should try to completely avoid it!
Let me explain.
We want our children to have an open-minded, flexible, relaxed attitude to food. That’s what non-fussy eating is, right?! Yet when you regularly mention or refer to which foods they like and which foods they don’t like it, it crushes the chances of that! Why? It divides food into two rigid lists in their mind: The Ones I Like. And The Ones I Don’t Like. As if this is a fixed, unchangeable thing. End of.
So if mushrooms are on their Don’t Like list, for example, it’s going to be super-difficult to shift them over to their Like list. Conversely, if you have repeatedly reinforced that peanut butter on toast is on their Like list, it’s going to make them less open to having something else on their toast! Instead, we need to encourage a fluid mindset towards food with room for movement. We want them to think: Maybe I don’t fancy mushrooms right now at this meal, or this week, or even this year – but that doesn’t mean I won’t ever like them. How else can they become receptive to eating new or different things?
And that’s just the start. If we dig a little deeper and look at the different situations we tend to use the word like around food and mealtimes with our children, we’ll see it can do even more damage!
Situation #1: You have given your child sausages for dinner, their favourite, but today they’re barely touching them.
You say: “Come on, you like sausages.”
Your child interprets that as: “Eat your sausages!”
Using the word like in this way puts pressure on your child to eat their sausages – and as you’ll know if you’re familiar with the Getting the Little Blighters to Eat approach, any kind of pressure is a big no-no! It may get a couple of extra mouthfuls in them, mealtime-by-painful-mealtime, but the overall effect is detrimental. It invites your child to a power battle and gives them something to react against.
Situation #2: Your child is choosing a pizza. They say they want ham and pineapple, even though they’ve always rejected pineapple before.
You say: “I don’t think you should have that one. You don’t like pineapple. Remember that pineapple cake we had at granny’s house? You didn’t eat any of that. Why don’t you just have ham?”
You child interprets this as: “Play it safe. Stick to the foods you’re 100% sure about.”
You are stopping them branching out and trying something new or different to what they normally eat. Oh the irony! How can we expand the repertoire of foods they’ll eat if we don’t allow them to step out of their comfort zone. Maybe they’ve rejected pineapple before, and yes, there’s a risk they’ll end up picking all the bits of pineapple off their pizza this time – but give them the opportunity to eat it!
Situation #3: Your child wants to try something new or unusual, perhaps something you consider more of an ‘adult’ food. e.g. blue cheese, gaucamole, a taste of your quite spicy curry.
You say: “Ooh, no…I don’t think you’ll like it! It’s got a very strong taste.”
Your child interprets this as: “Be cautious around new foods. Stick to bland foods.”
Kind of crazy, huh?! It’s often bland, beige foods we’re trying to get the fussy child away from! If a child is open to trying something – whatever it is! – go with it. Just give them a tiny taste and say nothing. What’s the worst that can happen? They’ll spit it out. What’s the best? They’ll enjoy it and ask for more. Don’t suppress adventurousness!
Situation #4: You’ve cooked pasta with a sauce you’ve never made before. Your child looks unsure about it.
You say: “I think you’ll really like it.”
Your child interprets this as: “Eat it!”
Uh oh! It’s another form of pressure again. You’re inviting trouble!
Situation #5: Your child is going nowhere near the broccoli on their plate.
You say: “Mummy/daddy really likes broccoli [popping some in your mouth]. It’s yummy!”
Child interprets this as: “Eat your broccoli.”
Pressure again! By all means, let them see you eat your broccoli, but don’t say anything. Let the role-modelling work by osmosis.
Situation #6: Someone offers you a crisp.
You say: “What flavour are they? Cheese and onion. No thanks, I don’t like cheese and onion crisps.”
Child interprets this as: “See. Mummy/Daddy have a Like and Don’t Like list too. It’s just the way it works.”
You are simply reinforcing a rigid mindset towards food. So keep this kind of information to yourself! If you don’t like a food, just quietly avoid it. Don’t draw attention to it!
Oh yes, in the world of food and fussy eating, no good can come of the word like – ever! Ban it from your vocabulary around food and mealtimes with your children – and if you feel it about to slip out of your mouth, stop and give yourself a little slap! 😉
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