Jessica Siegel's Healthy Family Blog - Gelson's


Keep the Crust


When I dropped little J off at preschool the other morning, one of her teachers called out to me as I was walking out of the classroom “Hey Mom, she doesn’t eat the crust on her sandwiches!”  I responded by saying that she didn’t have to eat the crust if she didn’t want to.  The teacher shot back with a friendly “just letting you know so you can cut the crusts off for her when you make her sandwiches.”  Her co-teacher nodded her head in agreement.  In front of little J, I matter-of-factly told them both “she knows that she doesn’t have to eat the crust if she doesn’t want to; sometimes she does eat the crust and sometimes she doesn’t, but if I cut the crust off for her she definitely will not eat the crust.  Her job is to decide what and how much to eat from what I offer her.  If I don’t offer her new foods to try or even the option of eating her crust, then she won’t ever learn to eat the crust or accept new foods.”

That approach seemed to make sense to them and I’ve been retelling the story to other parents all week.  Everyone has reacted positively to the story, and all the parents I spoke with realized that they give up on offering new foods too early in the process, or are too quick to short order cook when their child rejects a new food that is being offered.  I think it’s totally normal to respond in those ways, but it’s not what’s best for helping our kids become more competent eaters.  Limiting the menu to foods that our kids have already accepted or are easy to accept (i.e., sweets) will not help them learn to like new foods.  Instead they need repeated neutral exposure to new foods and not-yet-accepted foods in a supportive, family-friendly setting, such as a family meal (at school, Little J’s class all sits around a big communal table and eats their brown bag lunches together, so it’s sort of a family meal, but I’m not sure if the teachers eat with them). 

I admit that even I have to remind myself to keep offering both Little J and Big J foods that they have not yet accepted because I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking they don’t eat this or that, so I won’t bother putting it on their plates.  It takes at least 12 exposures before a child accepts a new food, and I know from plenty of experience that it often takes my own kids even more exposures.  If I force them to take a “no thank you bite,” pressure them, praise them, or even reward them during the process, then I will surely delay their acceptance or even make them avoid the food I want them to eat.  Instead, I must remain patient and neutral while modeling how to eat and enjoy a variety of foods at family meals.  After all these years in the feeding trenches, I know how it works with kids accepting new foods: they don’t, they don’t, they don’t, and then suddenly they do…I’ll just have to remind myself to remain neutral during those meals!