Magic Words: Have Your Taste Buds Changed Yet?

A million years or several months ago I started a ‘series’ (of one item so far…) on Magic Words, the brilliant and amazing phrases we use with kids that are particularly excellent at getting something or other across.

I have notes of a dozen Magic Words I want to write up, but to get the ball re-rolling, here’s a genius question from ‘Jane’ at Nothing By The Book.

I know it’s Magic Words material because it’s been echoing around my head all week. It sums up the kind of approach I’m keen on for SBJ and food, but whatever path you take with your kids (try just one bite/clean your plate/eat what you like) it provides a nice open-door invitation to try new things, or retry old things, without making dinner a battleground.

Never, ever take advice from me on potty training. Or weaning. Or cleaning house… But if you want, you can take advice from me about food. I’ve raised three garburators—by which I mean not children who eat junk food, but children whom no one can ever call picky eaters. They’ll eat anything.

But, wait. There’s a caveat. Not anything all of the time. Taste buds change, see, and sometimes kids don’t have the taste buds—or have taste buds that are just too sensitive—for the food we’re offering them.

One of the things we’ve always talked about as Cinder and then Flora didn’t like something / didn’t want to try something was that “taste buds change.” (Interlude: yes, it’s possible to know you won’t like something without tasting it. I will not eat steak tartare. You cannot make me. I will not taste it. I extend the same right of total refusal to my children. If they think it looks and smells gross, that’s enough. One day, they might think differently. Until they do, I will not force them. Back to tasting change buds… er, changing taste buds:) So when my eldest went off broccoli, when I’d make broccoli, I’d ask him if his broccoli taste buds changed yet–and he’d sniff it or look at it, and say no. And then one day he said, yes, but only in soup.

Point: when introducing children to food—offer. Put on the table. Eat it yourself. Make it again. Ask if they’d like to try it. Ask if their taste buds for [X] have come yet. But never, ever force. Not even one bite.

Unless, of course, you’re willing to reciprocate? When Jocelyn is making a yummy mud pie with dirt and worms and beetle carcases, would you need to take a bite to be able to assert that you don’t like it?

[Read more at Nothing By The Book.]

If that sounds handy for your household, here’s more of Jane’s food-and-kids policy.

I like her style because something we are prioritising with SBJ is helping him to listen to himself. When it comes to food, we want him to realise when he’s hungry and full and eat accordingly.


Photo credit: sk8geek via Flickr

The two other jigsaw pieces that I’ve found most helpful in this puzzle of how to nourish children are from Nigel Latta, a New Zealand child psychologist who writes (etc) on parenting (etc), and an article I read in a Healthy Food Guide (a NZ magazine overseen by a board of nutritionists, dietitians and public health researchers), but of course can’t locate now.

Nigel Latta, in his appallingly-titled Politically Incorrect Parenting tells the story of a family who came to his psychology practice. I’m retelling this from memory, so don’t quote me on the details, but I think I’ve got the substance right. The mum had made the appointment because her kids refused to eat all vegetables except pea ice cream (the kids didn’t know their ‘lime’ ice cream had been doctored late at night by their desperate mother and looked pretty suspicious and aggrieved when he mentioned it in the consultation).

He said all sorts of sensible things, I’m sure, but the bit that has really stayed with me was the secret emergency advice he put in a sealed envelope for when the mother felt like giving in and providing the junk the kids would accept. When she was worried her kids would starve in the face of healthy food, she was to open the envelope and read the advice inside. It said: ‘Hungry children eat.’

The study that Healthy Food Guide was reporting – and I know it’s a bit dangerous to give you my remembered summary, so take this with a grain of salt – followed toddlers’ eating habits and observed that, left to make their own food choices from an array of healthy options, they ate an appropriately varied diet over the course of a two-week period. They might eat only tomatoes today and only bread tomorrow, but over a fortnight it all evened out. That has been helpful to keep in my head to temper the inevitable worry when SBJ wants to eat nothing but blueberries and corn crackers for days at a time.

If you’re on a roll and want some more inspiration or guidance, Healthy Food Guide has a great website, and you could start with one of these:

Back to the main point, though: what Magic Words do you use around food and mealtimes to encourage healthy eating and development? Feel free to outline your approach more generally, or just stick to any useful sentences you have heard yourself – or a friend – utter.

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0 comments on “Magic Words: Have Your Taste Buds Changed Yet?”

  1. Rochelle Reply

    Yes – it’s clear to me that tastebuds do change and we talk a lot about how you might like something when you are older. From time to time, Caitlin will give tomato a go… even though she still doesn’t like it. It is so frustrating, though, when a once-staple falls out of favour.

    It also seems to me to be a ‘stage’ thing but that’s little consolation at the time. When Caitlin was Thalia’s age, she was terribly picky… she’s kinda ok now. Thalia on the other hand… argh! At the moment, we do force her to eat dinner because she actually *won’t* eat regardless of when she last ate and if she doesn’t eat then she will wake every hour at night. And that’s not much fun. I’ve tried starving her from lunch until dinner… to no effect. I’d really rather not be in a situation where she eats a different meal from everyone else and I do try and give her things that she will eat from time to time… If anyone has any suggestions on this, I’d be keen to hear them!

    • not a wild hera Reply

      It’s the once-staple-now-refused that is the most frustrating for me, too! One of the HFG articles talks about that and how it can be related to growth rates – babies and one-year-olds need to eat so much, but then they slow down.

  2. Angela Reply

    Love this topic! Thanks for all the links, I’ll get back to them. Even aside from my general interest in food, I love the topic because I am so passionate about the idea of simply not making a fuss about food. It can be hard sometimes. Recently I have reminded myself about this and made a decision not to entice Reuben to “just eat a bit more” when he says he has finished (with a couple of exceptions – when he is too tired and just needs some helps, and when he just can’t wait to play with something). I am really struck by, and impressed by, children’s ability to know when they are hungry and when they have had enough. Even when eating something he *loves* Reuben finishes when when he has had his fill, and not a bite more (and I’m sure Esther is doing the same). I would suggest that this is something you don’t need to teach SBJ as it just seems so innate (and I have heard that children come with it built in) – unless you have observed something in SBJ to think otherwise? The trick is, how to retain that skill!

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Great to hear this. And I like your thoughtful exceptions about ‘just one more bite.’

      I agree about the innateness – it’s definitely the retaining I am working on, because I think our culture erodes it easily, or doesn’t reinforce it. I think I have to be quite conscious about not overriding his views on his own fullness – or most other things about his body. I remind myself often that he is/will be the expert on his own body and I have to respect that much earlier than I might expect.

      • Alex Reply

        I’m getting better at this, I hope, although I’m sure I could still do much better.
        Marcus used to be such a terrible eater that we did get into a bit of a habit of making him just try a bit more (normally three mouthfuls – three is definitely the magic number around here!) before accepting his word that he’s finished… I try hard not to do that so much anymore, unless it’s a situation where I can tell he’s just anxious to get onto “something else” (aka pudding) – he declares himself finished so much more quickly when he knows there might be cake lurking somewhere than he does when it’s only fruit for pudding, so I’m afraid I do still sometimes pull rank and encourage him to eat a bit more of his “mains” first. Now he’s older we do talk about it in terms of balancing what sorts of food he eats, and reassuring him that if he’s really full he never has to force himself to eat more of anything. And I’m learning to trust him more.
        Isabelle, in contrast, took to food – all food – so much more willingly that we’ve never really had to go down the bribery route with her at all, and we’ve probably been better at taking her word for it when she says she’s full, because it’s so much easier to see that she does eat enough.

  3. Angela Reply

    Sorry, poor proof-reading above. My other comment on this topic is that I am rather erratic around the amounts I give my two, especially Reuben, so rather than analysing what he has left in his bowl to decide if he has eaten well, I give more thought to how much he has actually eaten. It feels so much more positive too!

  4. Andrew Reply

    any pointers on what to do when the kid just doesn’t get hungry at dinner (toddler taming DVD said that if you let the kid get down from the table, they’ll come back and eat later on, and Nigel Latta said hungry kids eat)?
    One of ours has gone from eating most things, to less and less, and getting more and more fussy. have tried just letting her eat what she wants from the plate, and all sorts of variants, but the nett result most nights is that she eats nothing. doesn’t get unduly upset or hungry before dinner. most of the time she’ll complain about it being yucky even before being at the table,

    she’s not gorging on afternoon tea, and has plenty of energy.

    Ideas / suggestions welcome. it just gets dispiriting when meals go from the kitchen to the table and back to the kitchen unmolested. she doesn’t even bother to make a mess on her plate or play with it.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for this. I’ve put the call out on the Facebook page for responses from people with more experience than I have of this. Rochelle has kicked off with wisdom!

    • Pippa Reply

      Hi Andrew, one thought from our (limited) experience with Toby, but also picking up hints from older siblings is “what else is happening earlier in the day?” Not just mid-afternoon, but at breakfast onwards? I remember watching my nephews eat more for breakfast than I would…I guess then it is not surprising if they are then not hungry at tea time. If she has plenty of energy and eats ok at breakfast and lunch, which I guess is the case as you don’t mention them in the post, maybe she is just getting her calories earlier in the day?

      I know its hard, but maybe try hard with the “this too will pass” mantra. And, as Thalia’s post talks about, think of the food intake over a fortnight, not just a day, or a meal time.

  5. Rochelle Reply

    Hi Andrew,

    How old is your daughter? If she is anything like my own children, I’m guessing somewhere between 1.5 and 2.5ish? In our case, our once fantastic eater is now a constant battle. I, too, have read ‘hungry kids will eat’ and it’s just not the case with our little monkey. She will, however, wake hungry at night and we’re up enough at night without adding that in as well.

    However, our now 4.5 year old seems to be coming out the other end and will now eat many things without a fuss. So, I’m hoping that this is a ‘phase’ as well – which is slim consolation when we are sitting at the dinner table! This is an ongoing battle for us as well so I’m definitely not an expert but here are some things that have helped a little in our house:

    * While I don’t just serve food that she likes, I do tend to based her meal around that with some bits of other food slipped in. For example, she will generally eat plain rice so I put some veges and meat in and try and get the odd little bit into her
    * She prefers small amounts, cut up small
    * She tends to eat better if I feed her earlier rather than later. She’s often looking for food at around 5pm so I try and give her things like veges and cheese and then don’t worry too much if she doesn’t eat a huge amount of dinner. I have friends who eat at 5 but I just can’t quite manage that.
    * I serve food that I know she likes vaguely regularly so that not ever meal is a battle. At the moment, that means nachos and sausages.
    * I have been known to bribe. You’ll (all) have your own thoughts about whether this is ok but she likes yoghurt so I trade 1 spoonful of yoghurt for a spoonful of dinner.

    Good luck with this – I completely understand how frustrating it is! Would like to hear your strategies as well!


  6. Tracey Reply

    Primary and Intermediate school do a great job of telling your kids what they need to eat to be healthy-so you get a kid at home lecturing you on what they should be eating (sigh) – even though what you gave them at 2 was exactly what they are now telling you they want – I’m obviously such a bad parent…

  7. Pingback: Magic Words #3: ‘I love to watch you play’ | Sacraparental

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