Many parents struggle every day to get their children to eat new foods, especially when it comes to babies. And there is a name for it: neophobia. Many more children than you might think completely refuse to eat a dish they haven't even tried. The reasons may be different. Maybe they don't like the way the food looks, they don't want to feel compelled to eat something, or simply because they are afraid of the unknown. In either case, it can be quite difficult to maintain a healthy diet.
For that reason, many parents seek help to keep eating with children from becoming a tense and stressful time. Is it your case? Do you want to learn how to introduce new foods to your baby? Then you have come to the right place! Keep reading this post and find out.
Play with food?
The texture of food can play a fundamental role in the reaction that your baby will have and even cause total rejection. According to a study by the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, whether a food is sticky, crunchy, or fluffy can be decisive for a child.
The researchers gave a group of children between the ages of 3 and 10 unflavored and colorless gelatin to play with. The other group was handed a board game.
Then they asked all the kids to try three desserts: a smooth strawberry yogurt, one with fruit chunks, and a strawberry gelatin. As a result, the children who had played with the unflavored gelatin ate more strawberry gelatin compared to the other group. In this way, the study concluded that letting babies handle food with their hands increases the chances that they will later agree to eat it.
Improve the social context.
According to several studies compiled by French researchers in an article also published in Appetite, the environment and social context have a substantial impact on the child's eating behavior. The results showed that children not only find satisfaction in the taste of food but also in company and social interactions while eating.
Have you ever wondered why it is easier for your children to eat when there are other people around? That is the answer! Children tend to develop a more positive attitude when eating when they are in a social and affective context. If the father or mother sits at the table with the sole purpose of giving food to the child, it is very likely that the situation will become tense and complicated.
You can try sitting down to eat with your baby. Talk to them, look at them, make positive comments about the food, and encourage them to eat like you do. Furthermore, eating with other people gives children the opportunity to comment on the sensations that such food produces and to observe how others react to it. Children will analyze the expressions and gestures of their peers, which will help them create a social construction of the pleasure of eating.
Take advantage of imitation.
Children are imitators by nature. They tend to imitate the behaviors of the people around them. For that reason, according to what the specialists say, it is very important that they see their parents eating a healthy diet. Babies who are involved with the rest of their family at mealtime are often more willing to try new things.
But this does not only happen with the family. It has also been shown that children can alter their eating habits if they are influenced by their friends or other children with whom they interact. In 1980, infant feeding expert Leann L. Birch did a study in which she asked a child who liked a vegetable A to sit down to eat with a group of children who instead preferred a vegetable B.
She repeated the tests four times, asking the children to choose between vegetable A and vegetable B. The results showed how the children who preferred vegetable A began to choose vegetable B, that is, the one consumed by the others.
Additionally, more recent research from the US National Academy of Sciences showed that babies begin to learn the pleasure of food at 14 months by observing other people.
Both studies suggest that if you make your child interact with other children by eating, they may be more open to trying new foods, especially if the group they are interacting with tries it too.
Common mistakes to avoid.
Another reason babies refuse to try new foods has to do with parents. As you read, there are some common mistakes that parents often make when introducing a new food to their children. Here are some of them:
- Try to distract them while feeding, for example, by putting them in front of the television.
- Try to convince them with rewards or punishments.
- Use physical force to force them to eat by putting the spoon in their mouth.
- Yell at the child to eat.
- Surrender and give children what they want when they want.
Giving children food can be very difficult, especially when they are babies. However, parents must understand how important it is to help them try new foods for their adult life. Parents should also strive to get their children to eat a greater variety of foods when they are young, as this will make it easier for them to adapt to new dishes and flavors as they grow older.
Pediatric studies have also shown that it can take parents between five and 15 repetitions for their baby to try new food and fully accepting it. So you must be patient and keep trying!
Your children need your help since they are babies so they can learn to do all their tasks, including eating. Follow these tips with love and dedication, and you will see how you can make your baby taste almost any food you give them in much less time than you expect!