The Favorite Food Technique
I often feel like a kid again when I hear my 4 and 7-year-old daughters playing happily together. Their favorite activities–playing School, Barbies, or Dress-up take me back to the days when my younger sister and I played happily together for hours. It’s often a warm and wonderful feeling to re-live my positive childhood moments, and just like any parent, I try to keep my girls’ lives and happy and positive, keeping moments of uncertainty few and far between, especially when it comes to food.
This is easier said than done–eating Paleo foods consistently is crucial to their health but giving up the unhealthy overly processed favorite foods without a huge battle seems impossible on some days.
It hasn’t been easy, but over time, my husband and I have learned some tricks that have helped keep the eating experience positive while supporting the child during a time of change.
Favorite Food. Every child has at least one favorite food, if not more. Using the Favorite Food Technique consistently during your Paleo transition can be a very powerful tool. It allows your child to have some control over the eating experience, but also gives you some power with introducing new foods.
Here’s an example:
It’s lunch time and you would like your child to try some roasted chicken or other healthy protein in the place of an unhealthy option like macaroni-and-cheese that you are trying to phase out.
Sometimes it can be Easy-Peasey Lemon Squeezy (a favorite saying around our house)
You’ve discussed the upcoming food changes with your child. Maybe you’ve picked out some new foods to try together or had your child help you prepare them. Once you feel that your child is as ready as they’re going be, present the plate with the roasted chicken and a small portion of a Favorite Food. Depending on where you are with your Paleo transition, the Favorite Food can be something like the mac-and-cheese or another healthier favorite, like strawberries. If your child is like mine, he/she will probably gobble up the mac-and-cheese/strawberries and ask for more while the roasted chicken sits untouched. Calmly explain that he or she will get more Favorite Food when the roasted chicken is finished.
Enter all stalling/defiance/testing tactics of said child here: picking at food, moving it around on the plate, feeding it to the dog, etc. It’s important to hold firm and encourage the child to try the roasted chicken. Have another portion of the Favorite Food within reach to show the child that they will be rewarded for trying a new food. Use your discretion here. If you just want the child to try the Healthy Food, reward with the Favorite Food as soon as the bite is chewed and swallowed. If your goal is to get them to eat the entire serving of chicken, wait until it’s finished before serving the Favorite Food.
Hopefully, the child will recognize how great the roasted chicken tastes, gobble it up, and be rewarded with the Favorite Food. Continue The Favorite Food Technique consistently with each meal until the Favorite Foods become Healthy Foods and pat yourself on the back when you’re telling your kids they can have more kale chips when they’ve finished their steak.
Sometimes it take a little Tough Love.
Again, if your child is like mine, it takes more strategy and planning. If your child refused to eat the roasted chicken and only eats a small serving of mac-and-cheese or strawberries for lunch, they will learn how unsuccessful that was. Allow them to get down from the table and go about their day. When hunger strikes and your child comes back for more food in a few minutes, use your discretion. Giving them the Favorite Food without the Healthy Food will teach them what works to get the reward–stall at mealtime, get down, get hungry, go back and bug mom/dad for Favorite Food.
When your child comes back to you for more food and is asking specifically for more mac-and-cheese, continue to offer the Healthy Food first. Sit them back at the table and serve Healthy Food (preferably something different than the roasted chicken–you don’t want to rehash the same battle) before giving the Favorite Food. Do not put any of the Favorite Food on the plate until they have tried/finished the Healthy Food. The point is to develop a pattern of predictability and safety for the child around new foods.
Reinforcing the child’s positive behavior keeps the eating experience positive and limits the battling that can often go on when you are introducing a new food. You know it’s working when you see your child more comfortable and willing around trying new foods. Keep working at it and lessening the servings of unhealthy processed foods. Once the processed foods are eliminated, it gets even easier. Kids begin to enjoy the flavors and textures of fruits, vegetables and proteins and pretty soon they’ll be Eating Like a Dinosaur!
A few more tips:
Remain calm–remember to keep the eating environment positive by guiding the child with the reward. If it begins to become a battle, remove the child from the table and try again when you both are calm.
Limit the liquids–make sure you keep heavy liquids like milk (raw, coconut, or otherwise) off the table until the child tries/eats the Healthy Food. Many kids will fill up on milk for the meal, missing out on the meal’s nutrients.
Choice–when introducing a newer food, be firm about the expectation and offer a limited number of choices. “We’re having eggs for breakfast. Would you like scrambled or hard boiled eggs?”
Consistency–make sure you and your partner are on the same team with this approach. Work together so your child knows you mean business.
Keep it fun–hugs, cheering and high 5s are allowed when kids try new foods! Celebrate the successes to keep it fun and positive.
The tips above were recommended to our family from our behavior therapist, Rebecca Kerley, in the early days of Charlotte’s issues. We’ve used The Favorite Food Technique throughout our journey and continue to use it when serving less desirable foods. Hopefully, your family will benefit from it as much as ours has.