By Pooja R Singhania
Kids enjoy new toys, new play areas, different colours and smells, but did you know that there is also a fear of trying unknown new food? Known as neophobia, this fear is actually a survival mechanism which dates back to the Stone Age! Survival in that era when we were hunter-gatherers was marked by being careful and avoiding poisonous food. Unknown food induces fear and disaudes us from indulging in new tastes.
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If your child has been reluctant to experiment with food, here are 5 tips to overcome it:
Introduce new with familiar
A popular strategy while introducing new healthy food is to introduce it mixed with or along with a familiar one. For example, add some spinach to the ragi porridge the baby is already enjoying. Gradually, the proportion of the spinach can be increased, and one day s/he will be eating spinach puree too!
Propose but do not impose
As you introduce a new food at the table, do not expect the child to eat it. If s/he declines completely, please respect that and give a neutral reaction. Forcing the child to try it or showing a negative response towards the rejection can make things worse. Put the onus of the decision on the child by saying “Oh this is a favourite among…” or “You remember, we read about kozhukattai/modak in that story, I thought it would be interesting to try it.”
Create the mood for food
Weaving a story around the dish, its origins, its popularity and flavours can definitely pique a child’s interest. Continued efforts to do the same can help achieve your goal. Sizzling spicy potatoes rolled into crispy rice and lentil crepes sounds more interesting than masala dosa, doesn’t it? The way to entice your child into trying the healthy dish will require you to exercise your right brain – the creative side! And yes, it may have to be done at each meal, till your child outgrows the world of fantasy.
Once bitten, twice shy? Parents get very attached to meals prepared and once rejected we are very wary of trying it again. But actually, repeated exposure helps develop a liking. Watching the family consume that bitter gourd several times and relishing it, is likely to cause a subconscious acceptance in the child and gradually s/he will enjoy it.
Walk the talk: How often have you cringed at the sight of okra or eggplant and refused to eat it? Beware that your little one is observing you. Parents’ attitude towards certain foods shape the child’s acceptance. In contrast, a parent who excitedly tries out the beetroot dosa or spinach idli offered during breakfast is teaching valuable lessons on healthy and joyful eating for life.
More than food being healthy, the environment during mealtimes must be healthy and joyful. That is the first step towards accepting and respecting all that is offered.
(The writer is KLAY’s nutrition consultant and Founder of Nourish 1000 Days.)
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