You know the kid. He is the one that when out orders plain white pasta, milk, plain bread — maybe chicken nuggets, occasionally the pizza — but little red sauce. If this is your child you probably heard advice from outsiders such as “he’ll grow out of it” or “she will eat when she is hungry”. Researchers and authors from Duke University say without the right balance of encouragement to try new foods, they won’t grow out of it and will be at risk for an increase of anxiety around eating.
As a parent of a picky eater, I have found some luck in using the method of “Food Chaining” – a method described by Dr. Mark Fishbein. With this method you slowly introduce foods that are similar to the textures and tastes that your child already enjoys. So if your child does love peanut butter, add some on crackers, mini toasts, maybe even an apple. I used this idea with pasta. Knowing that my son enjoyed pasta — plain but also liked pizza, I made the pasta he liked but put a little sauce on his plate for him to dip the pasta in at his choosing. That is important too — you have to offer the new food with positive encouragement for trying something different.
Overtime, he began asking for the sauce to be mixed in with his pasta. As this worked for my son, I encouraged him to be a food explorer for a month. We drew a fork on the calendar every time he tried something new – even if he did not like it or even spit it out in the trashcan. He received a reward at the end of the week for four weeks. We saw remarkable changes at home and at school. He even brags about it now.
Your child does not even have to eat the food to be an explorer. He or she can just count the many different apples at the store or help you plan a dinner together. The premise behind all of this is to stop the power struggle and replace it with a different relationship with food. This allows your child to have some control over their exploration of food, decreasing anxiety, and making eating more fun for them and your whole family.