As part of the University’s Children and Young People campaign, Dr Clare Holley, a Loughborough Senior Lecturer in Psychology, has shared some tips on how to overcome children’s fussy eating and encourage them to eat more vegetables.
“Children go through a phase between the ages of 2-6 years old where they become particularly fussy with all kinds of foods, and unfortunately, vegetables are one of the foods they particularly start to reject,” Dr Holley explains.
This phase, called “neophobia”, causes children to become fearful of new foods, or even foods that they used to enjoy but don’t anymore.
Dr Holley also explains that one method that may encourage youngsters to try new foods is re-offering, since it may take up to 10-20 times before they learn to like the flavour.
Additionally, as children may be sensitive to certain flavours or textures in food, it may help to prepare or present the vegetables in various different ways until they find a specific version they enjoy.
The second method Dr Holley highlights is role-modelling, which involves enthusiastically eating the food in front of the child. This can show them that it is safe and tasty to eat, as well as how to eat that certain food (if it takes some figuring out, like corn on the cob).
Finally, the third tip is to use rewards. As children might not be willing to try a vegetable that they’ve already expressed they don’t like, it may be helpful to use small, tangible rewards as a way to overcome an immediate refusal of the food, such as a sticker, in exchange for them trying a bite of the meal.
However, Dr Holley points out that it is important that such a reward is never alternative foods, such as chocolate, as this only encourages them to enjoy the reward food, seeing the vegetables as not worth eating.
Finally, children should only be rewarded for trying the food, not for how much of it they eat, as they need to learn to listen to their own cues on how hungry or full they are.
Dr Holley explains that if after trying these methods, the child still avoids eating a certain vegetable, it’s important to remember that things can change overtime, and it’s still possible to use these methods successfully in the future, as well as with other vegetables.
However, it is also important to remember that children are entitled to not enjoy certain flavours, and it may be necessary to accept that a certain food just isn’t to their liking.
The three tips in a nutshell
Re-offering: Inviting the child to try the vegetable several times, as it may take up to 10-20 for them to learn to like the flavour.
Role-modelling: Enthusiastically eating the vegetable in front of the child will show them that the food is safe to eat, as well as emphasizing its good taste.
Rewards: Giving the child a reward in exchange for trying the vegetable, which motivates them to give it another chance.