Trick your Child to Eat, or Treat them to Trust?
There are so many little tricks we have up our sleeves for getting children to eat - like blending fruit in smoothies or hiding veggies in tomato sauce. When do these little tricks backfire? And when can they be a helpful treat for developing a child's trust with food? Halloween clearly has trick-or-treating on the brain!
My PhD research with school-aged children highlighted that children are VERY aware of their parents mealtime motivations, and feeding strategies and they are also VERY articulate about their own mealtime goals, motivations and strategies.
One 9-year old research participant told me “My Mom’s always saying I used to like that food and stuff, but now I don’t….like tomatoes and peppers. I’m pretty sure she’s just like trying to get me to eat it”
Children know what’s going on, and more often than not, they know when they are being tricked - or it’s only a matter of time until they find out.
A research study in 2013 by Pescud & Pettigrew explored parent’s use of hiding vegetables to increase their children’s vegetable intake. This was a popular strategy with 24 out of 37 parents in the study reporting that they hid veggies!
Although they reported that it can increase children’s vegetable consumption and can avoid mealtime conflict in the short term - it was associated with a number of challenges both in the short term and the long term. Many parents said they had to exclude their children from the kitchen during meal preparation to prevent them from witnessing vegetables and many parents reported trying to maintain deception over long periods of time.
The problem here is that hiding veggies can reduce opportunities for children to be exposed to them in their whole form - which is such an important part of learning to like them over time. Also, long-term deception can erode a child’s trust of food as well as trust of the people who prepare it! What happens when a child who is already anxious about food finds out they have been lied to?
I love the tip Heidi Moreland & Jennifer Berry give in their responsive feeding podcast “Tube to Table”. If you are wondering whether or not to try a particular strategy, ask yourself “Does this strategy help my child to trust food?” If the answer is yes - go ahead. If the answer is no - think again.
So blending foods in smoothies or tomato sauces can be helpful IF...
- It helps your child get a balanced diet,
- Makes it easier for them to explore a new food,
- They know what they’re eating,
- It’s ok if they see it being prepared,
- AND they have other opportunities to be exposed to the foods in their whole form
BUT hiding or disguising foods can backfire IF...
- You are trying to trick your child,
- It involves long-term deception or lying,
- It would lead to your child to distrust the food if they found out,
- OR it prevents your child from having opportunities to become familiar with the foods in their whole form
Pescud, M., & Pettigrew, S. (2014). Parents’ experiences with hiding vegetables as a strategy for improving children's diets. British Food Journal.