Mealtime can be a dreaded time of day for many families. Parents, you make foods you know your child won’t touch, knowing the fight that is coming to try new foods, or the alternative, spending extra time to make your child a different meal you know they will eat. The stress that this causes both parents and children is understandable, but it can also be avoided. This blog will discuss why food becomes a fight (or a power struggle) and a few tips to avoid the fight in the first place.
The number one question feeding therapists often get asked in evaluations is, “why won’t my child just try the food I give them?” While we can’t speak for every kid, there is a common thread as to why children won’t try new foods. Primarily, food is the one thing in their lives they have control over. Though it seems silly, children don’t actually have that much control over their lives. They don’t get to decide where they go to school, what clothes are bought for them, their schedules, and sometimes even their hobbies. They do, however, have control over the food they put in their mouths. It is often why the first place you see children gain independence in their lives is when they start to dictate what they will and will not eat. Taking their power away by forcing them to eat food they aren’t ready to explore yet will only add to the power struggle of mealtime.
From a parent’s perspective, it’s frustrating and we understand. You just want to feed your child and are already stressed about making sure they eat a balanced diet, so when they stop trying new foods or foods that are slightly (in most people’s opinion) different from the food you know they will eat, the power struggle to get them fed begins again. We understand that it is so important to feed your child foods that will support their diet but there are ways to do it without forcing them to eat something they aren’t ready for.
So how do we avoid the power struggle? First and foremost, cut all judgment words out of your vocabulary when it comes to food. Gross, yucky, disgusting, don’t like, safe, not safe, healthy, good etc. are all words that give the child a preconceived idea about the food before they even get to explore it. Replacing those words with science words: sticky, small, big, round, crunchy, etc. will help you and your child look at food from an explorative perspective rather than a judgmental one. Also, make food fun. Have themed nights (based on shows or movies they enjoy) and present foods they like and foods they are still learning about. Allow children to explore foods with their hands, eyes, nose, and lips prior to eating them so they can be comfortable and know more about the food before tasting it by getting all their senses involved.
If feeding issues continue for a prolonged period of time or you or your doctor notice the following symptoms, it may warrant a feeding therapy evaluation by a trained profression: your child seems to gags/chokes on food regularly, your child gags/chokes on foods they prefer, your child has difficulty chewing through foods, your child shuts down at the thought of certain foods, weight loss due to decreasing diet, and/or your child has difficulty swallowing foods.
Written By: Mackenzie Haney MOT, OTR/L