I recently wrote about menu shrinkage; how parents of picky eaters often describe themselves looking up one day and realising that the number of meals their picky child will eat has become smaller and smaller and smaller... until they are only preparing three or four meals on rotation. Exposure is the enemy of menu shrinkage, and the key to fostering a great relationship with food.
What is exposure?
Exposure in relation to feeding is simply serving your child a wide range of foods repeatedly. It doesn't mean making them eat them, it doesn't even mean making them try them. Just putting them on their plates is all it takes.
The stats on exposure
Anyone working in the field of food and feeding will be very familiar with the often quoted research on the number of exposures required before a child will accept a new food. Actually, studies vary; one says 8 - 15, another, ten, for example. Whatever figure you plump for, it is incontrovertible that multiple exposures are required.
Another fascinating piece of research that I often refer to found that the mothers studied gave up on a new food after less than three exposures on average. This glaring mismatch contains a powerful message - we are deciding that children dislike something far too soon.
Do we count exposures? Record whether we're at 11 or 12... whether things are starting to go better as we hit the teens? Absolutely not. My approach, EAF, is all about minimising how anxious and invested in our children's eating we are as parents. Obsessing over how many exposures of cabbage a child has had will only intensify these unhelpful emotions.
If you do the math, imagine you serve a particular food once a month - multiply that by 12 for a whole year; you are just about hitting the optimum number of exposures after an entire year of persevering with a food. In fact, speaking from personal experience, I served my middle daughter mushrooms for three years before she decided to try them, and another year before she ate them - now she eats them with gusto.
"Serve everything that you would like your child to be eating relentlessly regardless of whether or not they reject it."
Time for the rhinoceros hide
Making food that you strongly suspect will be rejected is a tough business. Waste feels horrible, it can feel really futile to make food that you are pretty convinced your child won't eat (but you don't need me to tell you that). This, like the rest of my approach, is about long term investment. Be strong, expect rejection knowing that your child even smelling a new food and accepting its presence on the plate is a step forward.