Five ways facilitation can turn into pressure with extreme picky eating

1. Offer opportunities to sample new foods in a low-pressure environment such as Costco, Trader-Joes or other stores with samples.

facilitation: “I’m glad you liked it, I’ll pick some up next time I’m at Kroger (Walmart, etc.). Can you help me find oranges?”

pressure: “Okay, but there are 64 of them and you promise you’ll eat them all if I buy them?” (“I will!” he insists, but you still have 62 of them a year later…)

2. Your child eats some gnocchi with pesto off your plate at a restaurant.

facilitation: Offer to put a few on his plate (if you are comfortable with it he may continue to eat them from your plate for now if he doesn’t want them on his plate). Maybe pick up some gnocchi later in the week or offer pesto with pasta as an option the next time you serve spaghetti. (You could try to ask what he likes about the dish, the pesto or the gnocchi, but keep it casual and change the topic. Consider not drawing attention to it if your child is super sensitive to any interest/focus on his eating…)

pressure: On the way home you go to a store and buy two packages of gnocchi and three jars of pesto, telling your son, “We’ll have it again tomorrow since you liked it so much! We’re so proud of you that you added a new food!”

3. Offer a paper napkin with meals so your child can spit food out (get food out of their mouth without gagging or vomiting).

facilitation: Place the napkin next to each setting, or have a child set the table. Casually, once or maybe twice (and not every meal), mention it is there if they ever want to spit out a bite of food.

pressure: “Timmy, don’t forget your napkin if you want to try the pesto and spit it out…” A minute later, “Timmy, don’t forget the napkin is there if you want to try something.” A minute later, “Timmy, watch Mommy. I’m trying the pesto and now I’ll spit it out! See! It’s easy!” And… “Don’t forget about your trying-napkin Timmy…”

4. Grow food in a garden or window box.

facilitation: Browse a catalog with your child, check out a farmer’s market or look online to come up with a few items to plant, perhaps by color or what other family members enjoy. Maybe she helps plant, weed, and water and even picks the products of all that labor! She might pop a sweet pea into her mouth, she might not.

pressure: “Samir, you helped grow this yummy asparagus, you should taste it! You grew it! Just one bite!”

discussion: Being outside, or even plucking chives from a pot on the window sill can be a fun distraction and a great exposure. Frequent suggesting changes this from being a positive experience into pressure for sensitive children. (See this classic Mealtime Hostage post for a chives anecdote… “Earlier this year, TJ decided to try mint chocolate chip ice-cream. The next day he was eating chives from my garden. I don’t know how that math works, other than both are shades of green. Perhaps the ice-cream planted the seed that green things are safe to eat? Who knows!! TJ often makes connections and chains with food that make sense to him that would never occur to me.”)

5. Have your child help in the kitchen.

facilitation: He can measure, grate, stir, and dump ingredients. You might even bring the finished muffins in to his teacher or the front-office staff, or have a “bake sale” at your best friend’s house.

pressure: “Wow! Those muffins look so yummy! They have zucchini in them to make you strong! You made them so you have to try it!”

discussion: Similar to #4, baking and cooking can be a wonderful way to build positive experiences around food, with built-in exposures to smells and maybe even tastes. But for children who are sensitive to pressure, if you nag, remind, plead with them to try it, they might not even want to help again, much less work their way up to trying the food.

Don’t forget, children respond very differently to similar asks, comments or tasks. If your child happily takes a bite after you ask them to try it, go for it! If, however, it results in sulking, crying, or arguments, you know they perceive what you are asking them to do as pressure, no matter how kindly or with how much praise you ask.


Check out our previous post on Facilitating, not forcing for more information.


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