For today’s parents, we are constantly having to choose between convenience and nutrition. There are very few options that provide both in our society today. A perhaps unwelcome side effect is that we have inadvertently taught our children to avoid trying new foods that are less convenient and more nutritious.
Did you know it can take up to 30 presentations of a new food on the palate before a child willingly accepts that food? When families seek support for their picky eater, it is rarely because the child is refusing chicken nuggets and French fries. Further, the child likely started accepting those foods well before they have been presented 30 times! When our children learn these foods to be the norm from the get go, their palate gets used to them. It’s no wonder when we attempt to feed them natural, fresh, whole foods that perhaps less convenient, but are more nutritious, we get resistance.
Adding to the problem, social media and the internet have normalized a child’s unwillingness to try new foods as a “normal” part of development. There is no better time than when a child is learning to eat solid foods to teach him/her to try/accept/eat a variety of foods. Picky eating is a learned behavior in most cases. I’d venture to guess that you gave up trying to present that refused food long before that 30th presentation (we would too if what we were trying wasn’t working). In this case, not only has your child gotten practice avoiding that food, but s/he has also not had the opportunity to learn to try new foods.
Have you adapted to your child’s avoidance of new foods for convenience? Have you considered the long-term consequences of those choices? Have you considered what you’ll gain if your child’s picky eating was no longer a stressor for your family? Here are our Top 5 Reasons that you should teach your child to accept new foods now, as early as possible in his/her life:
- No more short order cook! Not only will this save on your time, but it doesn’t lead down a never-ending spiral of having to make individual meals for other members of the family or having to explain why one child gets specific food different from the rest of the family.
- Increasing food variety supports improved health! It should be no surprise that if your child is venturing out past the macaroni and cheeses, chicken nuggets, and grilled cheeses of the world, that he or she will come to experience the benefits of vitamin and nutrients with increased fruit and veggie intake! Proper nutrition is key to a solid foundation of desirable behavior.
- Ease eating in the community/out of the house. When your child sticks to one thing on the menu, it can make it predictable and easy for you when deciding what your child will eat at a restaurant. However, school lunch menus, afternoon playdates, and gatherings with friends and family that occur around mealtimes can be a whole different ball game! Do you find yourself having to pack your child something special separately? Does your child just choose not eat when you are in an environment where s/he doesn’t have foods s/he likes? If so, s/he is likely practicing avoidance! Click here to watch our #MondayMessage about how practicing avoidance prohibits your child from trying new foods.
- All meals don’t need to last forever nor be ended abruptly. It can be common that picky eaters also chew at a snail’s pace or engage in off-task or unwanted behaviors due to spending more time getting out of eating than actually eating (i.e., engaging in avoidant behaviors). By increasing your child’s success with eating during meals, their participation in mealtimes is a great set of replacement behaviors to be rewarded rather than focusing on the unwanted, off-task behaviors.
- Enjoy the meals! With less stress at mealtimes, this should help support your and your families’ “light switches” to stay on during the meal, making it a great time to have some quality family time and give attention to desirable behaviors!
BONUS TIP: When a child has developed a pattern of unwanted avoidance behavior like refusing to try new foods, it is unlikely that this will resolve on its own. Children continue doing what works for them.
Each time your child practices avoidance, s/he gets better at avoidance.
Further, because children are such quick learners, your child may have also learned to avoid in other situations outside the context of food (blessing and a curse). If your picky eater hasn’t yet, s/he likely will.
Only does things when s/he wants to?
These are all examples of avoidance that, in our experience serving families just like yours, your child is likely only getting better at, and is not going to drop out of his/her tool box any time soon. For more information on avoidance, read last month’s blog post.
Parents often tell us they have tried everything to help their picky eater prior to finding Behave Your Best. In these cases, what hasn’t been tried is addressing the child’s underlying pattern of avoidance, which is our area of expertise as your child behavior experts! We offer an introductory, assessment phone consultation when you are ready to tackle your child’s picky eating and/or avoidance behavior. We look forward to the opportunity to serve your family!
Jamie and Anna
The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute a behavioral consultation relationship between Behave Your Best, LLC and the reader. The information contained herein is not offered as behavioral consultation and should not be construed as behavioral consultation.