I have had problems getting my daughter to eat since she was old enough to realise there was power in being picky. It has driven me crazy and over the past few years and I landed up cooking two separate meals every night for dinner. She would eat a few different vegetables which was good at least and she could be persuaded every now and then to eat meat which she actually liked. I think she really just liked the attention that she got when DH and I tried to get her to eat. She refused anything with sauce including casseroles. She refused to eat anything that was mixed for example an all in one rice dish. She wouldn’t eat fajitas because they had spice or herbs in them. She would freak out and not eat if her food touched in any way.
I tried everything I could think of to get her to eat and enjoy her food. Including getting her to cook with me, kid friendly recipes from Annabel Karmel, healthy ‘junk’ food recipes like homemade chicken nuggets, sneaking healthy foods into things she did eat… you name it. It just got to the point where I was exhausted from worrying about her nutrition and hunger issues. I mean the child would not eat treat things like blueberry muffins or pieces of cake if she didn’t like the look of them. People would unhelpfully tell me to not offer any other foods if she did not eat what was put in front of her and she’d soon eat anything given to her. Well, my daughter proved them wrong by going on a hunger strike for 3 days!
DD started school in September and with the new legislation in our part of the country (not sure if it’s country wide) children at school from reception to year 2 get to have a hot school dinner. She was having some trouble in the beginning with eating at school because she picky and the school lunch supervisor suggested that I give her packed lunches instead. I heartily refused this suggestion for a few reasons.
Firstly, I wanted to use the power of positive peer pressure to get her to learn to eat without screaming her head off and throwing tantrums. Often if kids see other children eating something they’ll at least try it. Despite what the school lunch supervisor was telling me, DD would come home and tell me she’d tried something she normally wouldn’t eat. I’d pretend I wasn’t completely floored by the fact that she’d tried cous cous and liked it and would promptly make it for dinner the next night. She of course wouldn’t eat it then telling me she only ate it at school.
The other reason I wanted her to eat at school was because constant exposure to new foods often encourages children to try them as they become more familiar. Not to mention the cost of packed lunches which apart from a cheese sandwich and yo-yo’s she wasn’t really eating anyway.
So, I started reading Getting to Yum: The 7 secrets of raising eager eaters by Karen Le Billon.
Now, I won’t kid you and tell you that I read the entire book. In fact, I didn’t get past chapter 2. I basically latched onto one idea, gave it my own twist and I stuck with it.
Karen advocates just asking your child to taste the offensive food item. This does not include actually eating the offensive item, it only means placing the tongue on the item if that’s all they can manage.
Like I said, I took this one step further. I told my daughter, she had to try the offensive item 4 times. I told her that this was the new rule and that she was going to be eating the same things we had for dinner. This meant, she would have to eat 4 mouthfuls. I started on Guy Fawkes night and that night I’d made a beef casserole. I put two ramekins on her plate – one with casserole and one with plain rice. I mixed up a fork with some of the rice and the meat from the casserole and offered it to her.
I must tell you that this new rule did not go down well that night! My daughter, cried, pulled faces, threw a tantrum and refused point blank to eat. But I knew she wanted to go to the fireworks display. So I told her that she had to eat 4 small mouthfuls of the casserole with rice (two things she wouldn’t eat before) and then she could leave the rest and could go to the fireworks display. I’d made parkin and hot chocolate for the display both of which she really wanted to eat. She was going mental throwing a tantrum and my husband and MIL had finished their food and were waiting by the door. I told my daughter they were going to leave without us. She finally agreed to eat some. She took the first mouthful and told me it was yummy. Well DUH!! I wasn’t trying to get her to eat rat poison. I told her that I always made nice meals and that I would never get her to eat anything I wouldn’t try myself. She nearly all of the casserole which was more than 4 bites because she enjoyed it. I knew she would but I couldn’t even get her to taste it previously.
The following nights slowly got easier and easier. Some nights she refused to eat more than her requisite 4 mouthfuls and on other nights she cleared her plate. Don’t get me wrong, there are still things she isn’t quite sure she likes for example sweet potato. I took Karen’s advice and everytime she tastes something new and isn’t quite sure if she likes it, I tell her that her tastebuds are still learning to like it. DD hasn’t realised that the rules change slightly according to what is served. If I make a casserole, she has to eat 4 mouthfuls. But if I make roast chicken, broccoli, carrot slices and roast potatoes I make her eat 4 bites of each item. Most days now she eats everything I serve. She still has her reservations and I sometimes have to remind her of the rule but generally she will try new things tentatively at first.
I have been really shocked that she has tried some things I’d never believe she would have tried. We went to a tapas restaurant and previously when we’d gone there she would only eat french fries. The last time we went I was so shocked that DD tried calamari, prawns, chorizo and even some aubergine! Only last week she happily ate Chinese takeaway! We’ve been out to a restaurant and she’s asked me to read the menu to her and she’s chosen something completely different that includes vegetables! And to my surprise she’s eaten it all and asked to taste something from my plate.
I’m happy to say that she is eating better at school but some days she still refuses to try some things. But to be honest, school dinners in England leave a lot to be desired so I’m not going to lose any sleep over that.
These two small things: try 4 bites and ‘don’t worry if you think you don’t like it, your tastebuds just haven’t gotten used to it yet’ have really changed mealtimes in our home.
Give it a try. You’ve got nothing to lose.