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A Simple Solution to (Eventually) Getting Your Kid to Eat

We’ve all been there: the table is set, dinner is miraculously served on time, mac n’ cheese never looked so succulent. Except your child won’t touch it, not one bite. Her favorite food has been categorically expelled and that empty feeling has now crept into your belly. Strawberries, in season, luscious and red? Resolutely rejected. Who doesn’t like seasonal fruit? Apparently, your kid.

Maybe your kid eats everything, but if you’re like most of us, this probably isn’t the case. So join the rest of us in trying this eating hack. It’s simple: invite your kid’s nose to dinner. By “invite the nose,” I mean, invite your child to take one simple sniff. You’d be amazed at how it opens up a world of new possibilities. Sound too simple? It is simple, but it’s also effective. Here’s how to do it. (Please note: we’re not talking about sensory processing disorder, but kids who are just picky or very hesitant.)

No upset

It’s impossible to invite that pesky proboscis to dinner after 10 minutes of begging, pleading, or threatening. It’s a delicate customer, so treat it as such. When your child refuses, you casually counter with, “How about if you just smell it?” No power plays, just a low-key offering. Take the power and distress out of the exchange and make it an invitation.

Low commitment

Smelling is not eating, which is why this works. It’s very non-invasive and low energy. Often parents focus on twisting an arm to “Just try it!” Leave that aside. You’re working up to it. After all, don’t the best athletes warm up first? This is what you’re doing: the warm up. The twist is your child has no idea how important that sniffer is for snarfing.

The science of the sniff

Researchers say 80 percent of the flavors we taste come from what we smell. In other words, your child is already stepping up to the plate by simply smelling the food. He’s practically got the food in his mouth. 

Furthermore, smelling a delicious food can often make someone salivate. It’s part of the way we prepare our bodies for food and eating. Nerve signals are sent to our salivary glands to essentially start preparing saliva to assist with chewing, tasting, and digestions. A salivating mouth is more open to food, which makes a hungry child less likely to be picky.

After the sniff

Your child has gone ahead and taken the deep plunge by using her schnoz. She didn’t die, roll over, or play dead. Bravo! Now it’s time to ask, “What do you think?” If your child says, “No way,” then let go. Say, “Thanks for smelling.” Take the power struggle out of it. After all, some (not all) food struggles are simply an assertion of power. If your child says anything neutral or even positive, then query, “How about a nibble?”

One mouthful equals success. Sometimes one little bite is enough. Remember, it could take as many as 20 times meeting a new food before a kid likes it. Typically this starts to dissipate around the age of six, but it could be slow going.

So there you have it. Certainly there are other techniques to getting your child to eat: food origami, a palate of colors, a variety of foods, setting a good example, and simple bribery. Some have science to back them, others don’t. 

The next time you smell something delicious in the air and realize your mouth is watering and tummy rumbling, maybe you’ll remember that this works for your child, too. Go ahead, make a simple offering. After all, it’s only a little sniff.

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