You’ve tried cutting vegetables into cute shapes, pureeing them and putting them into soups and ulam, and given the whole “people are starving everywhere, and you won’t even eat a carrot” speech. Despite it all, your toddler or preschooler refuses the food.
“It smells funny.” “What’s that green thing in my meatball?” Funny how kids can’t even find their toys, but they’ll be able to pick out a microscopic vegetable. Food battles with children are exhausting. But the good news is scientists are telling us it’s okay to stop.
Kids automatically hate any food you force on them Studies on picky eaters (or in scientific lingo, “neophobic” eaters) say that kids who were pressured to eat actually ended up consuming fewer fruits and vegetables. A research report on college students found that kids who remembered being forced to eat something ended up hating (and actively avoiding) it.
It’s not just trauma – it’s plain toddler psychology. In one study, kids were given two equally yummy snacks: apple bar cookies, and peach bar cookies. Initial tests found they liked both (because – cookies!). Then the researchers restricted access for two weeks, so Group A could only get apple bars, and Group B could only get peach bars. To cut a long story short, kids would always insist on the cookie they couldn’t have.
So banning a favorite food and pushing any food just backfires. Kids hate it just because you want them to like it. Proof: in another study, two groups of kids were offered an unfamiliar soup. Those who weren’t pressured ate more than those who were.
What works, then? In one word: familiarity. Don’t make a big deal if they say no to a dish, but don’t give up either. Serve it again a few days later. Mommy Carmen Rosario says she has a “No-Thank-you-Bite” policy that works wonders. “I always have a familiar or favorite dish and a healthy side dish. They can eat what they like, but before they refuse anything, they need to take a little bite.”
So her kids have the opportunity to try a dish without the pressure to have to eat all of it. And that tiny bite can become a habit. A study found that kids started liking a vegetable if they tasted even a bit of it every day for two weeks.
Experiment – within their comfort zone Even if your kids have a strong preference for a dish, keep switching your menu. If they love adobo, then play with variations: adobo with boiled eggs, adobo with gata, adobo with pineapples. If they can’t get enough of fried chicken, try roasting it and using different marinades, or serving it in various forms (burritos, barbecue sticks, or with an assortment of dips). You gradually develop their palates and show them it’s actually fun to try something new.