There came a certain point in which my son seemed to get into a food rut. He refused to try any new foods and we got into the cycle of pizza, quesadillas and chicken nuggets. This picky/fussy eating is pretty common in children, even those who started off eating anything and everything you put in front of him/her. Every parent will deal with this issue to some degree; We find ourselves saying, “but you haven’t even tried it!” There are thousands of articles that can list all the reasons that children are picky eaters, and what to do, but I’m going to tell you what I did (even though I’m certain there are articles that would tell you never to do what I did).
Carrots not Sticks (unless they’re carrot sticks)
There are plenty of parents that will say, “if you just eat your vegetables, I’ll give you a cookie.” It’s completely possible I’ve said that before (a lot). And, while that’s not probably not the right approach, I still figured it was better to incentivize trying new foods than to punish for not eating certain foods. In my mind, that would have really created an unhealthy relationship with food. So, what I decided to do was to offer my child something he wanted (a new toy) for something I wanted (trying new foods). At the time, my son was obsessed with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – it was his favorite thing in the whole world. So, we invested all of $6.88 on an action figure to serve as the incentive. We put the toy above his “food chart” to serve as a reminder of what he was working toward.
The Food Chart
We decided that eating 10 new foods to earn this reward felt about right, although it was slightly arbitrary. The intention was for this not to be instant gratification, but rather something that was earned over time. We would not be introducing 10 new foods all at once – it ended up being one per meal. We selected 10 foods that we either wanted him to try/get a taste for, or that he had turned his nose up to previously: carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, chicken, turkey, potato, bell pepper, egg and corn.
We had faith that if he would just TRY some of these foods, he would enjoy the taste. Often times, kids’ fear of the unknown keeps them from trying new things, especially when it comes to food. The goal with this chart would be to select 10 new foods, and check them off as he ate each one (he got to put the sticker on the paper himself when he ate the new food, indicating he had completed it). We told him he needed to eat the new food – we didn’t instruct him to eat it all, although he did every time without prompting. If it works best for you, you can simply say they have to taste it. See the chart below, him picking his food (we didn’t always give him the choice, as the goal was for him to eat what we were eating, but we were pretty flexible with sides), and a picture of him actually eating broccoli for the first time!
Winner Winner Chicken Dinner
The results were better than we could have hoped for. He enthusiastically worked his way through the list for his toy, and was also very proud of himself for earning it. He ate the full serving of every new food he tried and usually said, “yum!” as he ate it (I know, this sounds too good to be true). It went so well, in fact, that we did a second round. All in all, he tried 20 new foods, and it cost us about $14 in toys – this was well worth it to us. Not only did he try the new foods, he continued to eat them. Again, this allowed us to serve him the same thing we were eating (which saved us time, money and stress). It’s been a couple of years since we tried this experiment, and he continues to eat the foods we introduced him to, as well as try new foods without a drag-out fight.