It is of course far easier to encourage a child to eat a healthy diet if they have been bought up on one from a very young age. Many parents hit periods of difficulty in getting their child to eat a varied balanced diet, and your reaction towards that period will ultimately shape the way in which your child thinks about food in the future.
During toddler years, children typically go through a phase of reacting towards some foods as if they are poison. If parents avoid presenting the food again during this period, thinking that the food is not liked, and especially if the parent replaces this food with an alternative that is more fatty/sugary, then the child will quickly decide not to accept the healthy option again.
However there are also great learning experiences about food that happen in toddler years, that can be of great value in later life when trying to convert to a future of healthy eating.
Toddlers are great at exploring food. In fact they explore most things rather thoroughly! But lets focus on their reaction towards a new food. It’s not just about consuming it. They engage with it, they dissect it and they do things to it that you would never dare to do in a restaurant if you were provided with a dish you had never had before.
Toddlers squish and squash their food, they lick it, smash it, throw it, munch it and spit it back out (then eat it again). They smear it, wear it and squidge it through their fingers.
Yet why is it that when you want you child to try and eat some broccoli, you simply stick it on a plate and give them a knife and fork? How boring is that?!
Now of course your 11 year old may well be out of the broccoli smearing phase, but the principal of exploration remains the same.
Does stir fried broccoli taste the same way as boiled or raw? What about if it has satay sauce poured over it versus gravy? Does it taste better in a smoothy? In a cake? In a fish pie? Or with cheese?
Do you feel better about eating broccoli that you chose yourself from Sainsbury’s, the broccoli you chopped yourself, the broccoli your cooked yourself or how about the broccoli you grew yourself?
How many times have you heard people of an older generation say that there wasn’t nearly as much choice in their day and that they ate what they were given? Well in their day, someone wouldn’t switch their broccoli for a Petit Filous if they said they didn’t like it. But they also had a lot more respect for the food that they had. They grew more and prepared more of it themselves than the lifestyles we have now enable us to do. They also knew that it wasn’t ok to waste it. During the war when they were rationed they were hungry enough not to take what they had for granted.
Do some children really have a food phobia? I’ll leave you to debate that one in the blog posts below. It’s certainly worth considering the reactions we have towards our child’s reaction towards certain food, the flexibility we are willing to employ in order to win them over and who is going to be more persistent in achieving their desired result – parent or child.
By Gemma Bailey www.NLP4Kids.org/gemma-bailey