If your child is a picky eater, encouraging them to play with their food may help them overcome the reluctance to try new foods according to a new study.
Researchers in the United Kingdom asked a group of 70 children – ages 2 to 5 – to play with mushy, slimy food while their parents observed, watching to see if kids would happily use their hands to search for a toy soldier buried at the bottom of a bowl of mashed potatoes or jelly. Children who wouldn't use their hands were offered a spoon.
Parents and researchers each rated how happy the kids were to get their hands dirty on a scale of one to five, with a higher number indicating more enjoyment. Children could get a total score as high as 20, a tally of the scores from researchers and parents for play with both the mashed potatoes and the jelly.
Researchers also gave parents a questionnaire to assess children's so-called tactile sensitivity, quizzing them about things like whether kids disliked going barefoot in the sand and grass or avoided getting messy.
The study found that kids who liked playing with their food were less likely to have food neophobia (the fear of trying something new) or tactile sensitivity.
"Although this is just an association, the implication is that getting children to play with messy substances may help their food acceptance," lead study author Helen Coulthard, a psychology researcher at De Montfort University in Leicester, U.K., told Reuters Health by email.
Previous research has linked food neophobia to limited fruit and vegetable consumption. Courtland and her team wanted to see if they could establish a link between touching food and tasting unfamiliar foods.
Courtland suggested that parents of picky eaters begin introducing new foods to their child by creating “food art.” Food art is making pictures or images with different foods on a plate. The first step is letting your child make a picture or design by arranging various colored foods on the plate. Don’t pressure them to taste their creation, but wait till they are ready to give it a try. Make it a game and eventually begin encouraging them to taste what they have created. Start small and expand to larger food groups and pictures.
Offering as much variety as possible from a young age also helps children experience lots of textures and flavors, which may minimize their fear of unfamiliar foods.
You’re probably going to have to join in on the taste experimentation to show how good these food pictures taste! You might also take a picture of your child with their creation on your phone and then show it to them – to make it a little more fun.
It’s fairly normal for kids to go through a period of refusing to try new foods, though most kids will grow out of this phase by the time they start school. However, there are some children that carry new food aversion on into adulthood. It isn't necessarily harmful as long as the children maintain a healthy weight for their height, pediatricians say.
But over time, neophobia can make it very difficult to enjoy social engagements. Parents that have a hard time trying or enjoying new foods themselves too often pass that trait onto their own children. Most of the time it’s just a phase that kids go through and finding creative ways to help them work through it eliminates the problem.
Source: Lisa Rapaport, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/19/us-food-fears-children-idUSKBN0O41MD20150519