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Help along the learning curve painlessly

Some flavors are instinctively sought after and enjoyed:  the sweetness of milk, honey and some fruits, mild saltiness, and the creaminess of many fats.  Children learn to like other foods by exposure to it.  In places where food is often scarce, hunger causes this learning to take place rapidly.   When food is abundant and varied as it is with most families in the United States, children have a tendency to become fussy eaters as they can pick and choose and soon learn to select only items they like best and refuse the rest.

These guidelines can broaden kids' diets and help them to like more foods:

  • Serve very small portions.  Children are overwhelmed and anxious if  presented with a large serving of an item they may not like or one they are unfamiliar with. When they are tense and nervous they are much less likely to learn to enjoy a new food they are eating. For tots, a single bite or perhaps two per meal of a new food may be enough.
  • Dish up a bite (literally) of each food on every plate.   When this is eaten, they can have as much as they like of anything else being served.  Don't force them to eat a larger serving of a hated food because it is "good for them".  If they find that food revolting, it isn't healthy for them to have to eat a lot of it.
  • Don't let a child think that an adult at the table doesn't like and won't eat a certain food.  If it cannot be eaten for health reasons, and the child is old enough to understand, explain.  Don't expect children to eat a food that adults refuse in front of them.
  • Make it clear that complaining, whining and making ugly faces over a food will result in the child leaving the table.  (Note:  no serving treats or snacks later.  They will have to wait until the next meal for more food.)  Enforce this quickly and without a fuss.  Critical comments about the food also should be forbidden until after the table is cleared, at which time discussion should be allowed.

Don't worry about enforcing a "balanced diet", or agonize about a child starving to death if sent away from the table.  It won't last long, will come out all right in the end and makes for a happier kid and calmer parents.

 

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