I don’t know a parent on the planet who hasn’t been frustrated at one point or another about their child’s resistance to new food.
Introducing new foods to kids is not easy. Resistance is a natural and normal part of child development. So normal, that almost every child goes through periods of saying no to any food, new, unfamiliar and even favorites!
My own children have done this—even now, after years of loving vegetables more than nearly anything else, My Little Man is “off” veggies. I used to worry that all he would eat at meals was the veggies, now he shuns and avoids them.
I have learned that how I react sets the tone for how long the food rejection phase lasts and my child’s overall openness to new food.
Just the other day he was home from school with a fever, and requested carrots and celery with dip for lunch. We may be phasing out of veggie refusal (fingers crossed!).
This blog series will tackle how to overcome one of the most challenging aspects of feeding kids— introducing new food and food rejection.
For starters, I will help you with the stuff you need to know—your response to food rejection, and the optimal attitude to adopt when introducing new food to children.
First, a Word on Food Rejection
Whether we like to admit it or not, rejection almost always feels personal. Especially if it happens time and time again.
After an effort to cook, thoughtful planning and the time it takes to prepare food, having a child refuse to eat is akin to rebuffing your love. And when it comes to certain foods, like vegetables, this rejection can trigger more worry, including concerns involving health, normal growth and a balanced diet.
The truth is, if we were to expect rejection, it would be easier to take.
If we were to know that children are timid with change, unsure of the unknown, and need time to warm up to new foods, our reaction to rejection might be different.
When I was a new mother, my pediatric nutrition training allowed me to expect rejection—so it didn’t worry or offend me when it happened.
I have shared this insight with many families: Be thrilled if food rejection doesn’t happen, but expect that it will. For most children, it’s a phase.
Your reaction to your child’s rejection of food has more impact on his future acceptance of that food than almost anything else.Your reaction to your child’s rejection of food has more impact on his future acceptance of that food than almost anything else. Click To Tweet
Show No Emotions
You’ve heard of a poker face. This is exactly the expression you need to have when introducing new foods—not overly excited, fearful or grimacing with your own dislike of the food, or clear anticipation that your child will reject the food.
Poker face = No expression.
Introducing new food is business as usual, just like getting your child strapped into the carseat or ready for school.
Lose the Pressure to Perform
It’s so hard to drop the pressure—even the simplest phrases like, “Oohhh, isn’t that delicious?!” can feel like pressure to some children.
Again, in conjunction with the poker face, refrain from going overboard with responses to encourage or discourage your child to eat. Ultimately, this lessens the performance pressure and may nix food struggles and the battle of wills in the long run.
Exposure is Key
In the early years, one of the most important things you can do is expose your child to as many different foods as possible, especially while his palate is open and accepting. Why? Because your child will naturally prune back his diet during the toddler years, becoming more selective and somewhat timid around new foods.
The goal is to have a broad food repertoire, so that the overall impact of pruning is minimized. Offer the world of food to your child early on (age-appropriately), so when he naturally eliminates food you won’t find yourself challenged with a child that will only eat a short list of items.
Let your child get messy! Let her lather her body in yogurt. Smear beans all over the highchair tray. Tip the sippy cup upside down. And yes, rub applesauce in her hair.
The tactile investigation of food is part of development—it’s necessary, productive and part of the learning curve. Don’t hold your child back from investigating all his senses with food—if you do, he may become less interested in trying to eat it.
There are more secrets to introducing new food to children!
In my next post, I’ll talk about some fun strategies for getting children to try new foods. After that, I’ll tackle the more difficult eater—the older child who is resistant to new foods.
If you want to go one step further, I’ve written a book called Try New Food: Help New Eaters, Picky Eaters and Extremely Picky Eaters Taste, Eat & Like New Food. In the book, I share some of the essentials I use in my private practice with some of the toughest picky eaters!
What works for you when introducing new foods to your child?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: March 25, 2013
Updated on: December 10, 2018