Greysen: “Mom, what’s this?” She holds the unidentifiable food from her taco in pinched fingers.
Me: “Spinach.” She eats it.
Greysen: “Mom, what’s this?” Questioning the motives of another suspicious character.
Greysen: “I don’t like it.” End of story.
Twice. Twice; that is, being the number of times beets have been invited to dinner thus far. The first time they showed their burgundy flesh on Greysen’s plate, she tried them. This time she was not as willing to eat them. That’s two down, ten times to go before we hit our goal of at least 12 times. Technically, eight to twelve times is the range for the number of times a child may need to experience (see, touch, taste, etc.) a new food before they accept it. I say “twelve” just to really give it a fair shot.
According to researchers, Bellows & Anderson (2006), children will need that kind of extended exposure to develop a familiarity with a new food. Once a new food is familiar, they are more likely to eventually try it.
Children’s food preferences fluctuate. Favorite foods today may not be favorites later, but with regular exposure children are more likely to give a variety of foods a shot.
Does it really matter if Greysen likes beets? No, not at all. I am, however, trying to help develop her palette to prefer as many healthy choices as possible. Early childhood is the time for this. Research suggests that it is in these first six years that children will develop eating habits, including preferences for certain types of foods (Birch 1998). I often ask myself, what kinds of foods do my children have the most exposure to?
As important as eating healthy is to me, I too have been quick to dismiss the possibility that Greysen is likely to enjoy foods that she already shown a distaste for. Two months ago (I remember the day perfectly), I was guilty of proclaiming, “she won’t like it” in reference to some cauliflower a friend was sharing. My unforgiving husband replied, “Marisa, how do you know?” Right you are. As if on cue, she ate it. Even though we had tried cauliflower steamed, stir-fried, baked, cheesed and raw, this time she ate it, and liked it.
As the gate-keepers of foods, we adults wield control over what foods our children may eat and how much of it they can have. We decide when they eat and where they eat. With this power comes great responsibility. We can all-too-easily forgo offering our children foods, dismissing the possibility that they may eat it, or we can decide to put it on a plate (again and again, perhaps), eat it ourselves and wait and see.
When we eat new foods in our home, there are no demands. The girls are never forced or coaxed to “just try it.” Curiosity most often leads Greysen to try new foods, or foods that we haven’t tried in a while, which may as well be new. She is also HIGHLY motivated to try anything Moon eats – which is pretty much anything we put in front of her.
Where do you find inspiration to cook new foods? My friend, Kimmy, is inspired in the kitchen by her favorite cookbooks and chefs. I get stuck in a rut so easily thus not consistently offering the variety that I should. Last week was the first week of our local farmer’s market for the season. From May to September, we walk to town and pick some local fare for our home-prepared meals. Last week, the beets looked too wonderful to pass up, so a bunch found its way home with us. Our plan for the summer is to buy an infrequently eaten food in our home each week at the farmer’s market. I can’t wait to see what today’s market will bring.
Ray, J.W., & R.C. Klesges. 1993. Influences on the eating behavior of children. Annals of the New
York Academy of Sciences 699: 57–69.
Birch, L. 1998. Development of food acceptance patterns in the first years of life. Proceedings of
the Nutrition Society 57: 617–24.