It’s getting kids to eat what parents serve that causes so many problems.

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DINA ROSE, PhD is a sociologist, parent educator and feeding expert empowering parents to raise kids who eat right.

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It's Crazy to Ask Kids to Eat New Foods Until They Already Like It

It can take toddlers 10-14 times of tasting a new food before they'll like it.

Everyone knows this, right? And it can take picky eaters even longer.

Getting to the magic number can be a real challenge. That's why most parents give up on a new food after serving it 4 times.

So here's the question: If it's pretty much guaranteed that your child won't like a new food until the 10th time he has tasted it, why would he eat the food on tries 1, 2, 3, 4...?

Kids won't eat food they don't like.So this is straight math/logic. 

  • Taste 1: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Taste 2: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Taste 3: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Taste 4: Food rejected. Don't like. Won't eat it.
  • Parent gives up.

Expecting kids to eat a food during the phase where they're just getting used to it is crazy. And the crazy is on us.

Mixing up tasting and eating is the problem.

During the "getting used to it" phase, kids should only be asked to taste a new food. One bite. One tiny bite. With NO expectation that they'll eat it.

In the research that investigates how long it takes before kids will accept new foods, they rarely (if ever) ask the children to EAT the food. They simply give them a pea-sized sample to taste. And that's what parents have to do.

Say, "If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it," or the modern equivalent, "Just take a 'no thank you bite'" and you'll be dead in the water.

"If you don't like it, you don't have to eat it," sets up the expectation that your child will have to eat it if he likes it. This is implied pressure and it makes reluctant kids reject the new food even before they've tasted it. 

I know this doesn't make sense to parents, who think "Kids will want to eat food they like," but it doesn't work that way. Kids have lots of reasons for refusing food. Making your life miserable is one of them!

And a "No thank you bite" just primes kids to politely say "no thank you" when they reject the food. In fact, it primes them to think, "No thank you" before they even take that bite.

The problem is that we don't know which taste will be the magic taste. Is it taste #5, taste #8, or taste #42?

Some kids like a new food earlier than other kids. And some foods are easier to like than others. But since you can't know which tasting attempt will produce the winner, the only thing you can do is continue to offer tastes.

And the only way to offer tastes without making yourself crazy is to completely separate tasting from eating.

In other words, unless you have already grown a good taster, never push the issue of eating a new food. Otherwise you'll end up in a control struggle. And you'll probably end up throwing out a lot of food.

  • Always put something on the table you can reasonably expect your child to eat.
  • Offer tastes of food on a separate plate if your child is overly protective and scared.
  • Find opportunities away from the table to encourage exploration: At the grocery store, when you're cooking, when you're eating, when you're at the park!

When parents lower their expectations around new foods, kids do better.

Learning to taste new food is a skill children have to learn. For more on this topic read Unleash Your Toddler's Inner Food Critic and Nix the Negativity.

~Changing the conversation from Nutrition to Habits.~


Kid Eats Q&A: What to Do When Your Undereater Misbehaves at the Table

Feeding an undereater can be unnerving. 

And I understand. Our job is to nourish our kids.

Add in a little pediatrician pressure—"Do whatever you have to to get your child to eat more"—and feeding an undereater can be downright frightening.

So, here's the question: What should you do when your undereater misbehaves at the table?

Toni wrote:

"I would love to hear your thoughts on how to handle the misbehaving underweight child at the table who needs disciplining for their actions - time outs? (taking them away from those calories during that crucial hunger window) reprimand them? (negative emotions decrease appetite) other?"

1: Let me say, as with so many parenting issues, the problem here is...competing goals.

We need to nourish and civilize our little monsters. And while keeping a child well nourished certainly seems more's the good news: It turns out, the two goals are really inter-related. Solve one and you'll solve the other. 

And solving the behavior problem has to come first.

2: Worrying that a child won't eat enough food during meals may be one of the most common parenting concerns.

Parents of undereaters have reason to worry, but study found that 85% of all parents of young children want their children to eat more. Pushing more food into any child is a strategy that backfires.

However, pushing food:

  • Sets up a control struggle.
  • Disconnects kids from their own hunger and satiety. (And yes, this happens even for undereaters—just not in the way you'd expect. Keep reading.)
  • Reverses the parental/child power structure. 

3: The only solution to a mealtime misbehavior is discipline.

In other words, be firm about the rules—and the consequences for breaching the rules.

A few points of clarification:

  • Discipline is NOT synonymous with punishment. I like to think of discipline as being consistent, as in, "It takes discipline to train for a marathon."
  • Ask yourself, What does my child need to learn? The answer is usually not, "What behavior is acceptable." Most kids already know that. The answer is usually, "My parents mean business." That's the importance of consistency.

4: Reluctance to set and enforce boundaries encourages both bad behavior and poor eating.

Inconsistency encourages kids to do as they please. Their thinking: "I never know when I will get my way. But, since there's always a chance, I might as well go for it." (Think of this as intermittent reinforcement.)

The only way to encourage an undereater to eat is to serve small, structured meals.

5: Use the Eating Zones Rule: Make sure there are times when food is available and times when food is not available

The Eating Zones Rule doesn't just teach kids to eat at the right time. Eating Zones give undereaters secure times when they know they won't have to think about eating.

For more on Eating Zones read, Hunger vs. Appetite.

6) Serve very small meals.

The research shows that undereaters eat less food when they're presented with too much food. How much is too much? You'd be surprised. For some children, it's serving more than a couple of bites at a time.

Read, The Portion Size Problem: A Matter of Trust.

7) Recognize that doing anything to get your child to eat is a strategy that will always backfire.

Kids don't eat better when parents do anything. The only thing that happens when parents do anything is that power shifts from parent to child.

For more on this, read, What's Holding You Hostage.

By the way...if you think I'm immune to forcing food, read, You Have to Eat. Or Else...

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~


Moving recess to before lunch increases fruit and vegetable consumption

Having recess before lunch increases fruit and vegetable consumption!

Don't you just love it when researchers study— and then discover—the obvious?

Hmmm...let's see...requiring kids to take a fruit or a vegetable doesn't increase consumption, but making sure kids are extra hungry before lunch does. 

When lunch is scheduled before recess, kids are encouraged to minimize eating time. And that usually means cutting out the fruits and vegetables.

This is especially true for kids who value playing and running around.

Two takeaways for feeding kids at home:

  1. Structural changes can have a big effect. For instance, sometimes feeding children dinner at 4:30 solves all the evening eating/meltdown/control struggle problems. (Still want a family dinner experience? Let kids eat their dinner early, so that you're not fighting about snacks and then let your children eat dessert when the adults eat.)
  2. Often parents inadvertently create an incentive for children to do the opposite of what we would like them to do. One example that comes to mind is the strategy of providing an appealing after-dinner snack that kids really like. This encourages some children to skip (or minimize eating) at dinner. After-dinner/before-bed snacks should be acceptable but not preferred.

Moving recess to before lunch increased the number of fruit and vegetable servings by 65% in one study.

It also increased the percentage of children eating fruits and vegeatbles by 69%

Other benefits schools have reaped from moving recess to before lunch:

  • More food being eaten overall (decreasing, presumably, excessive afternoon hunger that often leads to poor academic performance and unhealthy snacking).
  • Less wasted food.
  • Calmer lunchroom atmosphere.
  • Decrease in disciplinary problems.

And remember, changing the timing of recess is free. 

As are the structural changes you can make at home!

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Source: Price, J. and D. R. Just. 2015. “Lunch, Recess and Nutrition: Responding to Time Incentives in the Cafeteria.” Preventive Medicine 71: 27-30.