If you are a parent – I am sure you have often wondered why it is so difficult to introduce children new healthy food. And why introducing new junk food is effortless.
Children usually develop a liking for junk food the very first time they are exposed to it. But introducing healthy food is always a struggle. It requires many years of coaxing and forcing to get the same child to like a healthy food.
Before we panic and force children to eat the healthy food that we are offering. And before we stop taking children to birthday parties and other occasions where junk food may be on offer – in an effort to keep children away from junk food – let us understand the reason – why children like junk food – and why they dislike healthy food.
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Why don’t children like new healthy food?
Children dislike new healthy food because they are programmed to be afraid of new food.
Children have Neophobia. Neophobia is the fear of new things including new food. Neophobia is a protective mechanism and it ensures that in spite of being extremely curious, children still do not end up eating something which is poisonous or dangerous for them.
Healthy foods like vegetables are colorful, and have strong smells and stimulate the senses so much that children become aware that these are new foods and it triggers neophobia in them. That is why children don’t like vegetables.
How can we make children get over the fear of new healthy food?
Children get over their neophobia or fear of new food if they are allowed to experience the food with all their 5 senses.
If you want your child to like vegetables –
- Allow your child to look at the vegetable
- Give your child the time to smell the vegetable and get used to its strong smell.
- Allow her/him to squish it between his fingers and smear it on his face to feel it.
- Allow your child to bite into the vegetable and experience the sound of the vegetable crunching under her/his teeth.
Only when the other 5 sense are satisfied that this is a safe thing to eat will your child actually taste the vegetable that you are offering
Why does the fear and dislike for vegetables persist in children well beyond the baby stage
Children never get over their neophobia or fear of vegetables and other healthy food because we never allow children to experience healthy food in a relaxed stress free environment where the fear of making a mess and eating too slowly does not dominate the atmosphere.
In our enthusiasm to feed children lots of healthy food – as neatly and as quickly as possible – we parents usually turn healthy food into an ugly, mushy, tasteless, colorless, texture-less food – which does not appeal to the senses at all.
We then quickly push this ugly mush down our children’s throats. As a result our children’s senses get completely blunted.
As soon as we offer something which is colorful, a spinach for example that is green or a carrot that is red the child’s senses immediately revolt and he rejects that new healthy food.
What can parents do if they want their child to like healthy food?
It is impossible to convince children to try a new food just by telling them that it is tasty and good for them. If you want your child to like new healthy food easily you have to allow your child to look at the food, to experience its colour, to experience its shape, its aroma and its texture. That is when you will find that it is easy to get a child to like new healthy food.
Allow children to encounter and experience healthy food – like they encounter and experience junk food. In a leisurely, relaxed pressure free environment – where they can pick up and eat food themselves at their own pace.
Also read 10 ways to get kids to eat healthy food