Did you know that it can take up to 20 exposures to a food before a baby/toddler/child knows if they really like the food or not? Did you know that it is our job as parents to offer healthy foods and model healthy eating habits but our children’s choice as to what they actually consume? Great news! These are two facts that are very calming to most parents.
So what is an exposure then?
An exposure is any encounter with a food. This can be touching it, squishing it, licking it, sucking on it, tasting it and spitting it out, or actually swallowing it! Cause for celebration when this happens!!!
Here are some fun ideas for food exposure with your kids…
- Take them shopping with you. Let your kids touch the broccoli and cauliflower in the store and notice the difference in texture and colour. Show them red grapes and green grapes and ask them which colour they want you to buy for them to try. Show them that tomatoes and apples are the same colour on the outside and tell them when you get home you have a surprise for what is on the inside! Kids thrive off of this type of wait and see game. If bread is the issue, then perhaps take them to your local bakery and ask if they can watch bread being made and taste it when it is fresh out of the oven. Or perhaps bake bread with them at home.
- Try to make your food choices at meals varied in colour. We all taste first with our eyes…seeing a food is the true first exposure. For example, instead of chicken, rice, and cauliflower; try chicken, sweet potato, and broccoli. More exciting to look at.
- When you are first introducing foods, start small. Exposure to a small amount is less overwhelming. Sometimes kids will just pick something up and mush it or taste it and spit it out. These are all steps towards eating. Think of it as crawling before they walk. After they have had a few opportunities for this you can push a little to encourage one swallow but only if you feel it won’t cause stress.
- Make food fun! Do your kids want to help mix or stir or maybe serve a portion onto their plate? Kids love to be involved. This can be great exposure that leads to consumption.
- Try offering new foods away from the table too. I have always been amazed at how many more foods my twins will try when offered as a snack during play time or on a picnic. Maybe they think of it as part of their play or their adventure. I am not sure why, I just know it works!
And my most important tip is don’t let them see you sweat and whatever you do, do not offer a less healthy alternative! As soon as kids get wind that we are stressed about their eating, the battles will become more intense for sure! It becomes a power struggle and that is not good for anyone! They cannot think that refusing chicken will leave them with hot dogs or peanut butter every night. They cannot think that refusing broccoli means they can fill up on applesauce. This is not fair to yourself or your kids.
So there is the RD talk in me. Now I will share some personal experience.
- Success with salmon….One of my twins absolutely loves salmon. A few nights ago he ate a 6 oz potion! His brother on the other hand really doesn’t like it at all! He has only been exposed about 10 times now though so I am holding out hope. We have gradually worked through the stages of just putting it on his plate, then touching it, then licking it, then taking one bite and this past week he ate three bites. We made it fun and took our bites at the same time. Each time, I talk to him about the good things about salmon and why it is good for his body. Each of these steps has been encouraging to me that maybe one day he will like it and eat a full portion. If not, then at least I know I have done my job offering and encouraging.
- Success with salad greens…We eat salad every night with our supper. For a long time I mostly served the twins cucumber or carrot and avocado from it to set them up for success. The past few weeks they have been asking for “all the salad” meaning spinach and kale and everything. And much to my surprise they like it!!! They only eat a little bit but it’s a start. So exposure of it being on the table all this time was enough to even spark interest.
- Fail with tomatoes…I have tried many types of exposures and activities with tomatoes and neither of my twins like them. Clay says they are too slimy and Wes says they are too chewy. I have encouraged them to explain to me what they do not like about them so at least I understand why. They are not being defiant. They really do not like the texture. So, I have let this go for now. I will continue to offer over time but this is a battle that I will not push on. I will choose to let this be a “no thank you food.”
Hopefully these tips and stories will help put your minds at ease if you kids aren’t gobbling up all the foods they once did or that you wish they would. Give it time. Most kids will come around on most foods. And if there are a few that they don’t, it’s okay as long as they are getting good nutrition overall.