Every day I work with kids who are having difficulty eating for a variety of reasons. For children that are having trouble trying new foods, I love using the Little Food Passport to help them organize and track new foods they have tried. It helps kids build independence and confidence during mealtimes. Make sure you are doing this activity together and eating with your child! This is so important. Just like children learn other skills by watching and imitating others (especially you!), they will learn to try new foods by following your example.
Here are some additional strategies for using The Little Food Passport with kids that may be having difficulty getting on board with trying new foods:
- If your child is particularly selective about the foods he eats, or has a very narrow repertoire of foods, start by selecting foods that are similar to the foods he already eats. Choose a different shape, color, brand, or flavor of a preferred food. For example, if he only accepts one type of muffin or strawberry yogurt for breakfast, start with mini muffins or a different brand of strawberry yogurt for your “new” foods.
- Always serve food out of its' wrapper/container in neutral plates and bowls. This way, your child does not get hung up on a certain brand or packaging and will be more tolerant of other changes to his foods.
- If your child is struggling with the foods you selected, next time offer a choice. Pick 8-10 foods and have your child choose the 5 that he is going to explore with the Passport that day.
- Use neutral yet descriptive language when talking about the foods. Avoid terms like yummy/yucky and instead discuss the way the foods look, smell and feel. Encourage your child to be a food “explorer” and truly examine all parts of the food! Is it hard, soft, crunchy, wet, etc.? For older kids, it can be helpful to talk about your five senses and generate a list of descriptive words together beforehand.
- For children that are hesitant to taste a new food, offer alternatives as steps towards tasting the food. Scooping/mixing/mashing a food with a utensil, touching it with your finger or hand, touching it to your lips, licking it with your tongue, and tolerating it on your teeth are all necessary steps before chewing and swallowing a new food (and in that order)! Interacting in some way should still be considered a success. Make this fun and creative by offering choices and modeling the steps towards eating. For example, “you don’t seem ready to take a bite of that today, but should we try a frog kiss or a lizard lick of it instead?!”
- For foods that seem particularly challenging, use a smaller amount on the plate so it is not so overwhelming. For example, if a carrot seems daunting, use a peeler to introduce a small carrot shaving as step one. Or, encourage your child to combine it with a food he likes (e.g. dipping it in a preferred sauce) so the new taste is not so big in his mouth.
- Follow your child's lead! Children have amazing imaginations and will often come up with creative ways to combine or try new foods on their own. Maybe your child will build a dinosaur out of orange slices or make french fry tacos from sweet potato fries and lettuce. Celebrate however he chooses to interact with the new food!
- Avoid power struggles during this activity (or at any point during mealtimes). Research tells us that children are much more likely to try new foods when they do it at their own pace. Instead of telling your child to “just try it” or “take a bite,” model the behavior you’d like to see. I love using “I wonder” statements and thinking aloud when trying new foods with kids. For example, “I wonder which one of these foods makes juice in my mouth when I chew it…” or “I wonder who can make the louder crunch!” Children generally want to participate in these types of challenges, and making a new food sound like an exciting adventure is key!
Of course, if mealtimes are excessively lengthy or stressful, if your child has a very restricted range of foods (e.g. accepts less than 20 foods or co), cannot tolerate new foods on the table or plate, or appears to have difficulty chewing or swallowing foods or liquids, he or she may benefit from feeding therapy. Speak to your pediatrician about scheduling a feeding evaluation.
Kate Bither Devore, MS, CCC-SLP, CLC, is a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist, feeding therapist and Certified Lactation Counselor who specializes in working with infants and children with feeding difficulties. She offers consultations and parent training to help mealtimes become more fun and stress-free. For more information or to contact Kate, please see her website at www.eattalklearnslp.com