Building Trust with the Food Averse

There is no shortage of tips and tricks to fix the picky eater on the Internet. There is also no shortage of eye rolling from the feeding trenches. So when I came across “Fun taste-tests that turn picky eaters into gourmets” from Tribeca Nutrition, I was conflicted. The strategy itself may be based on sound principles, but I struggled with trusting the idea discussed in the article just by the language used in the title.

Tribeca Nutrition is new on my radar of feeding peeps who understand that feeding children and eating in general is an exercise in trust. What I’ve read from pediatric dietitian, Natalia Stasenko’s blog was enough to convince me to try what she suggested. With the principles of the Division of Responsibility in hand, and a handy group of kids who have varied comfort levels with food, I dug out a muffin pan and went spelunking for nibbles in the refrigerator.

The plan, as explained in the article linked above, is to fill each spot in a muffin pan with different novel and accepted foods. Present this just before a scheduled snack or mealtime (ie lunch), and ask the children to rate and describe the food they try.

Our first attempt at this food adventure game included strawberries (safe), blueberries, shreddies, almond cake (within the range of possible), and small squares of Havarti cheese (novel food). Each child was given a glass of water and handed a napkin while I explained they could spit out anything they tried and didn’t like. The only rule – no “yuck”‘s or “ewww”‘s, just describe how the food tastes and feels.

Miss Adventure and Turbo, my picky eater, both expressed interest in our food experiement. As we each took turns going around the table, Miss A and Turbo chose a small piece of Havarti and discovered it’s delicious. TJ tried a piece of almond cake (nuh uh). As we each took a second turn, TJ chose strawberries. Miss A and Turbo continued, sometimes a little apprehensive, but still willing. When it was time for TJ’s third turn, he quickly became stressed and declined the opportunity to give his thoughts based on smell or touch. TJ’s visible discomfort concluded the experiment and I served the kids lunch. Miss A and Turbo devoured what remained of the things they found tasty. TJ polished off the compartment of strawberries.

If you’re thinking of trying a food adventure game to broaden the dietary variety of your selective eater, I would not suggest attempting this until you have established a feeding relationship built on trust with your child. If you feel confident that level of trust with feeding exists with your selective eater, then proceed with the guidance of the DOR – the child chooses how much or if to eat from what you offer. I didn’t push when TJ declined to taste or interact with food he wasn’t comfortable with. He saw the other 3 foods – and that still counts.

I believe it is because I didn’t pressure anyone to eat anything, all the kids expressed how much fun our food adventure experiment was, including TJ, who said he would be willing to do it again.

So we did.

The next day, the muffin pan included carrots, green pepper, havarti, strawberries and two different dips, ranch and warm pasta sauce. Turbo tried a bite of green pepper, decided he still doesn’t like it, and spat it out into his napkin. Miss Adventure decided she wasn’t ready to experiment with dips quite yet, but tried all the food except green pepper. TJ picked up a carrot, then a green pepper, followed by a piece of Havarti. He smelled them all and reported what he expected each of these foods would taste and feel like. He thinks they will all be sour, the vegetables will feel too spiky, and the cheese too squishy.

While we ate lunch after this food adventure, I asked the kids to explain what they think it means to trust. They agreed trust means feeling safe, knowing that someone or something won’t hurt you.

Me: “Like chocolate?”

Miss A: “Chocolate doesn’t hurt!”

Me: “So you can trust chocolate?”

All: “Oh yeah!!”

Me: “What if I offered you a plate of chocolate, but it was shaped like dog poo?”

All: “Ewwwwwww!”

Me: “But it’s still chocolate, it just looks like something really yucky. Do you think what it looks like changes the taste?”

TJ: “I wouldn’t eat it.”

Turbo: “I’m not sure if I could eat it. Maybe, if someone else tasted it first.”

Miss A: “I’d smell it first, then lick it and if it smelled and tasted like chocolate, then I’d eat it.”

And that right there is the difference between a selective, a picky, and an adventurous eater. Each has a very different level of trust in food, and that level of trust absolutely needs to be respected.

Everybody has a relationship with food based on trust. It is the cornerstone that dietary variety and competent eating are built upon. If trust is what gets the food from the plate, and eventually, into the mouth, it just doesn’t make any sense to serve food without it.

trustTribeca Nutrition helps families to raise healthy eaters, resolve feeding problems, eat well with food allergies and enjoy family meals in simple and delicious ways. Mealtime Hostage appreciates the suggestion to explore novel food in a no-pressure way.


2 responses to “Building Trust with the Food Averse

  1. Pingback: Hostage Files: When Parents Can’t Unite |·

  2. Thank you so much for trying it out! You nailed it: nothing works around dinner table if trust is not in the picture. In my posts I try to emphasize how DOR is step number 1 in approaching any feeding challenge.

    One of my kids is extremely sensitive to pressure and she would never buy this taste-test idea if I was pushy. On the other hand, she loves giving her opinion on everything, so this motivates her to try new things from time to time. As she became older (8 year now), she is willing to try almost everything, but only likes about 30% of what she tries, which is fine by me.

    I agree, the title is a bit of a stretch :). The point of the post was to help kids develop food tasting skills and provide this extra gentle nudge that may help some venture into the scary territory of new flavors, smells and textures. TJ is quite a brave little trooper, touching and smelling 3 (!) new foods in one go!

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