Despite all our efforts to offer yummy, nutritious foods, we know that our little one can reject it in an instant, sometimes without even trying it!
While your little one is learning to love healthy food, how do you deal with the dreaded “I don’t like it” at mealtime?
You might have tried the usual “You still have to eat it because it’s good for you”, but probably realised that it doesn’t work. Rather than encouraging our kids, it often creates arguments and stubborn standstills.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO LIKE IT BUT YOU HAVE TO TASTE IT
If your child complains about certain foods they have tasted and disliked in the past, remind them that they are learning to like it, and that their taste changes every time they try something again. Tell them “You only have to taste it; you don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to eat it”. Promote tasting, not liking.
I know I keep banging on about this, but we all acquire taste preferences through tasting. This is why it’s so important for kids to keep trying foods, again and again, until they learn to like them.
Having a little taste of everything is all they need to gradually expand their repertoire of liked foods.
“Try It, You’ll Like It” is actually true!
TALK ABOUT IT!
I see a lot of advice for parents to ignore those comments or encourage their child to use a ‘no, thank you’ response to foods they don’t like. The reason why I don’t believe in this approach is that it doesn’t give us any information and it limits helpful conversations about food.
Kids should be entitled to their feelings about food, and to express their likes and dislikes. As adults, we feel entitled to our food preferences and opinions; why deny this to our kids? But remember, taste preferences are not set in stone – they change over time. It’s not because your child doesn’t like carrots that they will never like carrots.
So encourage your child to talk about the food and how they feel about it – in a relaxed and respectful way. When you know how your child feels, you can respond in a better way.
But remember, talking about it isn’t an open door to negotiations and arguments about whether or not the food is good or bad, or whether or not your child should eat it. It also isn’t about coercing children to eat more. Rather, it should be about validating your child’s feelings and helping them feel comfortable with the food on their plate while encouraging them to taste new foods. If they don’t like something after tasting it, they can decide whether they want to eat it or not (read more about the division of responsibility).
When you know more about your child’s feelings as they are tasting new foods, you may be able to offer a simple solution to make the food more acceptable, or empathise and say something that will make them feel better. Here are some examples:
- I don’t like it because it’s cold. Response: Would you like me to warm it up?
- It tastes too strong. Response: You could mix it with something else on your plate to see how it tastes with that.
- It’s too mushy. Response: How about mixing it up with something else on your plate to add texture?
- I don’t like it because it’s bitter. Response: Shall we add a little bit of honey or tomato sauce or yogurt or tzatziki?
- I don’t like it because it’s too hard to eat. Response: Would you like some help?
- I don’t like the taste. Response: That’s ok, well done for trying. You might like it next time.
So don’t worry if your child says ‘I don’t like it’. Encourage them to have a little taste, talk about it, respect their feelings, and see if you can find different ways for them to try new foods.