Are you on Pinterest every night searching “dinner ideas for picky eaters?” Are you frustrated because your child has chosen chicken nuggets for dinner for what seems like the millionth time? As a parent of a picky eater, you know there’s nothing more challenging than trying to convince your child to try a new food.
Children with multiple learning differences, or Complex Learners, can have different reasons for their resistance to new foods. Sensory issues like an aversion to certain textures or smells or issues with fine motor skills can all play a role. While it’s important for you to understand what causes your child’s avoidance of new foods, it’s also valuable for you to encourage him to try something outside of his comfort zone. But how can you help your child take that first step and try a bite of new food?
How about bringing a Wolf School tradition of First-Time Friday’s to your home? At The Wolf School, we schedule First-Time Friday’s into the day each Friday. Students are encouraged to try a new food together in a fun and safe environment. This past year, some students tried everything from yogurt to lettuce they grew themselves!
In an effort to engage our students with this process, we’ve learned a few helpful tips. Check them out below and let us know how your family’s First-Time Friday’s go!
Make it social
It’s always easier to try something new when you have friends by your side trying it too! Positive peer influence can go a long way and if your child sees someone he admires like a friend or a family member being brave enough to take the first bite, that might be just the encouragement he needs to try it too. At your inaugural First-Time Friday ask someone your child enjoys, maybe a grandparent or family friend, to come over and participate!
Involve your child
Complex Learners, and in general most children, may be more receptive to an idea if she’s played a role in it. So, let your child help pick the food. This could mean taking her to the grocery store with you and letting her pick a new fruit to try, having her assist you in the kitchen with a new recipe, or starting a family garden and having her help you pick the seeds you’ll plant together. Involving her will help your child feel a part of the process and it may even help your child associate fun memories (like helping you make scrambled eggs!) with the new food.
Start off slow
When you introduce a new food to children who are naturally picky eaters, chances are your child isn’t going to devour it and ask for more. It may feel scary to him if you just present a plate full of new food and ask him to try it. But what if you lowered your expectations and asked him to smell it or just pick some up with a fork or spoon? Take small steps that eventually build up to trying a bite. Having your child start with a simpler task may help him see the process in smaller (less scary) steps. This way, you’re also giving your child time to get used to the look, texture, and smell of a new food.
Praise your child
Your child isn’t going to love every new food, but if she takes the plunge and actually tries it – that’s the important part! Don’t forget to be proud of this accomplishment. Compliment your child’s effort. Saying something like “I really admired how you tried a bite of something new” instead of expressing frustration could help encourage her to try again in the future.
It’s important to remember that it’s a process. Your child’s dietary habits aren’t going to change overnight. But if you engage him in a way that works for him you might get your picky eater to finally put down those chicken nuggets – even if it’s just for a bite of yogurt. In the world of picky eaters – that’s a win!