Why should we encourage kids to taste foods they don’t like? Especially when it is such a classic meal-time battle that we as parents would prefer to avoid. Why offer broccoli again when your child has turned up his nose or given it a big “yuck” every time it is served for dinner?
It is important to continue to offer these foods because studies have shown that one needs to taste a new or ”unpleasant” food ten to fifteen times before you start adapting to the new flavors and eventually learning to like them.
How did we go from our infants eating pureed kale and curry to our “picky toddlers” demanding only mac-n-cheese? Did we stop eating nutritious, well-rounded and varied meals? Or have we unknowingly developed a pattern of throwing in the towel and pushing the easy-button “just to get a meal in them?”
The good news is that if we are aware of the slippery “mac-n-cheese slope”, we can get ahead of it and develop healthy, well-rounded, adventurous eaters from a young age. The best news is that the ‘right’ thing to do for our kids’ nutrition is the TRUE easy-button, as it involves only one meal plan. This discourages arguing about what’s for dinner and encourages a family meal time that comes complete with conversation and connecting down the road.
So what is the key to having good eaters?
Two simple rules….
- “ONE FAMILY MEAL”
- “ONE TASTE, NO FACE”
By the age of one year, commit to having as many meals per week with your child(ren) as possible. Prioritize this. And only offer ONE MEAL. (It goes without saying to make sure that all food is small enough and soft enough for your child’s developmental phase of eating.)
As your children watch you enjoy a variety of foods their natural desire will be to copy and eat the same foods as you. The key is that if they don’t eat what’s served, do NOT offer an alternative meal plan. And don’t worry – they will eat when they are hungry enough — it’s okay for your child to go to bed refusing to eat dinner a few times before they get the hang of the new plan. (Just don’t shoot the plan in the foot by offering those on-the-go, non-nutrient-rich snacks between every meal. “But they’re H-angry!” you say… so bring out the fruits and veggies they didn’t eat at lunch.) You want your child to arrive at meal time hungry.
The next phase starts between the ages of three and five. This is when the one-taste rule gets introduced and enforced as any other rule in your home. Nobody “likes” brushing their teeth before bed, but they do it. Because it’s the rule. Think of it as table manners 101 combined with teaching their taste buds to accept new and different flavors.
The one-taste rule says that everyone in the family will POLITELY take one taste of each food at the meal. If they do not care for it, they may simply move on to the other foods served. IF they choose to make a “face,” spit it out, or say “YUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!,” they will kindly be asked for a do-over until they can accomplish the task of ONE TASTE, NO FACE. And remember: smells, licks, and mouse-like-nibbles don’t count. And, yes, it must be swallowed. (Hint: milk rinses tastes out of the mouth very quickly, so at our table, this is the go-to chaser when needed.)
I know family meals may seem literally impossible. As the working mother of three homework-laden-activity-loving girls, I know how hard it can be to sit down to eat together. Just remember that regular family meals encourage healthier kids, more adventurous palates, and strong and lasting family relationships.
(Now, if someone could just come do the cooking for us!)
Written by: Dr. Shana Christian