Encouraging Interest in a Variety of Foods Through Books
While there are only a small handful of studies out there about how to truely get kids to eat and fix picky eating habits, we do know certain things that do not work:
- Forcing, pushing, even just "encouraging" our kiddos to eat certain foods actually makes our children percieve those foods as less desireable and causes them to consume less of them
-Same findings in this study, although, try as I might I can't find the actual study- just a few blogs and online journals talking about the study. Here is one of them.
- Giving rewards for trying new foods (such as tv time or dessert) also causes our children to see the new food as less desireable.
So if we can't talk about these new foods and gently encourage our kids (ok, probably we aren't always being exactly gentle about it anyways and we're often far more than encouraging when we want them to try a bite of something healthy or new or even worse- something you just know they would love if they would just take a bite of it!) well, then what can we do????
For starters, take the battle away from the table. One of your best weapons--ok, now I'm just being dramatic-- one of your best tools is found on your child's book shelves. Children's books are super helpful with teaching leasons, encourging desired behavior, and opening a discussion with your child. This is not groundbreaking stuff here. Stories have been used for years to help with maners, potty training, preparing for a new sibling, and even for talking about healthy eating. Books are fun and the focus is off of your child and on an imaginary character. It also provides a subtle social pressure without need for a real life friend to model the behavior you want: "Charlie and Lola ate a carrot, I wonder if you can too?" Addtionally, it increases your child's exposure to that food so it's not so new (and we know neophobia is a common issue around food- especially in toddlers).
If you're not sure where to start, here is a list of books from the blog Delightful Children's Books (which is great, by the way): 10 Children's Books about Food. There are a bunch of great books listed and to add to that, I also like The Very Hungry Caterpillar (for young ones), Blueberries for Sal, and Stone Soup.
A nice use of these stories is to pick one you like, read it with your child a few times (at bedtime or wheneven you typically read books) then suggest an activity some other time that incorporates the food that was the focus in your book. I.e. If you read Stone Soup, make a soup with your child and really let her help prepare it (maybe not chopping with knives but they can probably successfully wash veggies, pour broth into a pot, add pre-measured spices, and stir it all up before you put it on the stove, etc.) Talk about the story, your own experiences, what you think it might taste like, who you may share it with. When it is ready, let your child help serve it if you think this can be done safely. Let your child brag about making it with you to whoever is around to listen. Even better, take some picutres of you guys making it, serving it, and tasting it, for showing to friends or printing to make your own "book." In this scenario, not only does the reading help to encourage trying new foods, but research has also shown that kids who help in the kitchen are more likely to eat the items they helped prepare! Win-win!
Let me know if you have any favorite kids books about food. I'm always looking for good ones.