We are all a product of our experiences and I think this is particularly pertinent when it comes to the foods we eat and the experiences we have around meals. Mealtimes and foods are about so much more than just nutrition or taste. What we choose to eat can be influenced by positive or negative experiences with a food and the memories we have created and stored. If we can collect positive food experiences for our children with a variety of foods, we can help them to learn to enjoy a broader and more nutritious variety of foods.
What does this mean and how can it help your fussy eater?
Collecting positive food experiences is about developing a strong foundation that we can use to build on and introduce new and more challenging foods. If family mealtimes have come to represent stress, arguments, a sense the child isn’t good enough or even subtle undertones of expectations not being met then we continue to build negative food experiences. This tends to result in the child shutting themselves off to new experiences in this environment. However, if family mealtimes represent chatter, laughter, and sharing about our day we can build positive food experiences that are mostly irrelevant to the foods we eat. We can then slowly start to change the foods and maintain the positive experience.
I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream
I’ll give you an example of this from my own experience. I’ve never really been an ice cream person and I guess that stems back to being a little bit lactose intolerant as a child - foods that don’t make you feel great tend not to be favourites. Ice cream also wasn’t a treat that was offered much in my family so I never had many memories of eating it. However, recently I have started yearning for it - it has become a treat I really look forward to. When I reflected on this change I found my reasoning for this to be quite insightful.
Bear with me as I explain - I have four children each with a dietary requirement, including lactose intolerance, nut, egg and seed allergies and Coeliac disease. Going out anywhere to eat can be difficult and embarrassing. It involves lots of double checking of ingredients and explanations to the service staff and often one child needs to go to another establishment to find something suitable. For the most part it is easier to eat at home - except when it comes to ice cream! Ice cream shops have an option that suits all our dietary requirements and they tend to clearly label them, which means far less questions and explanations required.
They also tend to “get” food allergies and are happy to clean utensils to avoid cross contamination. Ice cream parlours are also accessible and common – we’ve had great experiences ay all of our recent holiday destinations. So, as you can see, ice cream has become a favourite of mine because it brings happiness to my children, it’s easily accessible and we enjoy it when we are relaxed and not rushed for time. It is the collection of positive experiences of obtaining and sharing the ice cream, rather than the ice cream itself, that has changed my perception of how much I like ice cream.
Translating this to other foods
If you want your child to eat more fruit, for example, make sure you are collecting positive experiences for them involving fruit. Take them to the market as a special one-on-one treat to buy your fruit, take fruit with other foods to a special place for a picnic, make smoothies for another family member together, do a fun craft activity with them such as stamping with fruit. Make sure they are fun and happy experiences and that there is no pressure on them to eat the fruit. The goal should be to create happy experiences – trust me, the eating will then come!