Positive or Negative Food Association?

kid refuse vegetablesThe other day I was hosting some friends for lunch and wanted to wow them with my impeccable cooking and treat them to a four course meal. I spent a considerable amount of time making this cream of pumpkin soup to serve as the appetizer. I was however disappointed when my guests politely refused the soup and went directly to the main course. They mentioned pumpkins are children’s food and they consumed way too much when they were young. One of them actually said the sight of pumpkin nauseates him. Funny thing is, none could remember the last time they had them. Maybe some time back in their childhood.

The thing is, children can form positive or negative food association depending on the experience they have with the food.  As they interact with foods, they begin to form lifelong food associations that will affect their eating habits later. There is this common practice in Kenya where children are fed on pumpkins day in day out until they are able to share the family meal. After having a discussion with my guests I realized the problem was not pumpkins or how they taste, but an association they formed after being flooded with them when they were kids. Due to the boredom and monotony of consuming the same food, meal time was a struggle and more often than not accompanied with a pinch here and there as one was forced to swallow.

If a child gets in trouble for not eating a particular food let’s say vegetables or for not drinking water, they will associate that food with getting in trouble.  Later on, subconsciously, they may shy away from those particular foods because they give them unhappy memories. If you keep giving your child the same diet, they will hate food and meal time will be a struggle leaving you and the child exhausted and in a foul mood.

It is important to help children form positive associations with healthy foods. If you want your child to learn how to eat healthier foods you will have to do more than just telling them what to eat. Do not show your kid that you are getting frustrated and upset if they do not want to eat a certain food. This will only make mealtimes miserable for them and you and that won’t help improve their eating habits. Trying to force them won’t really help either. Remember, you don’t want to win the battle you want to win the war. Patience and persistence are the keys to your success.

Keep your child involved and try repeated exposure to that particular food they are not fond of. Children learn through observation and emulation so be a great role model and show your children how much you enjoy fruits and vegetables and the foods they don’t like to eat. Do not nag them in to eating that particular food; If you do, they will view this as punishment. Help your child associate fun and good memories with eating these foods. No food should be used as a reward, they may grow up thinking that is a very good food that should be eaten each time one does good. It is also important to avoid stocking the house with fatty and sugary foods to avoid competition with your healthy choices.

Helping your child develop healthy eating habits is the foundation to their overall health.

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