I am writing this post as a way to kind of understand and process* the philosophy guiding our Food Friend’s approach to expanding the food repertoire of our profoundly picky eater. First, an important tenet in the approach is the following:
There are no bad foods, only bad choices.
Are potato chips a bad food? Not implicitly. If you’re eating a moderate amount of them and as long as the rest of your day’s food is varied and healthy, that’s okay. But if you have, for instance, a heart condition and if the chips are loaded with saturated fat, then it might be a bad choice to eat four large bags of them in a sitting and nothing else.
So, my parental guilt is eased. Cheezits are not a bad food; eating only Cheezits is not a good choice.
Because we are trying to help the tot expand her diet, we don’t ever want to stop providing her a food she will eat. We might limit it, but we must keep providing it, especially if it offers a unique or daring sensory experience, like the god-awful frosted cookies. Each and every food has the potential to become a bridge to a new food.
A bridge food is a food the tot will eat right now. We take a bridge food and find another food, a target food, that has as few differences from the bridge food as possible. If at all possible, we keep it to one variable. For instance, one of the bridges that has mostly worked goes like this:
She liked Snyder’s square pretzels.
I offered her pretzel twists – same size, but traditional pretzel shape.
I offered her pretzel sticks, the short dipping style – slightly larger, still pretzel though.
I offered her pretzel rods – larger, but same shape.
When I offer her a food, I am supposed to present it to her in varied ways – on a plate, in a cup, in a bowl, in a baggie, etc. This way she doesn’t get too attached to a presentation style. But presentation style is, in our house, a variable, so if I’ve been giving her pretzel squares in a sandwich baggie for the last two days, I need to give her the twists in a baggie the first time as well.
Get it down to a single variable and work up from there.
Much of the common thinking these days encourages parents to offer a food as many as 10+ times before expecting a child to accept it, but the tot is outside this norm. So when I say “I offered her pretzel rods…,” please note that it took us almost to the end of that large bag before she’d accept that they are, in fact, pretzels and she can eat them. And it wasn’t like she didn’t like pretzels before that.
In her defense, pretzel rods present unique problems to a pretzel eater. They splinter, they are tougher, and they make more crumbs, so they are more adventurous for the tot than even the pretzel sticks. When a food requires more courage on her part, I have to be diligent to keep it in rotation so she doesn’t back away from it, which has happened with certain foods. In those cases, I’ve had to completely reintroduce the food like it’s new, starting even by talking it up in the grocery store again.
Where this is taking us right now is toward our target food: bread.
From pretzel rods, we are trying crunchy bread sticks. They are the same shape and about the same size as pretzel rods. I got the kind with sesame seeds because they look more like pretzel rods. So far she has mildly rejected them, meaning she picked it up eventually but she declined to put one on, in, or near her mouth. (This is actually a small victory. More commonly a new food is met with outrage or panic.)
If we can get her to eat crunchy bread sticks, then we’ll hopefully move to progressively less crunchy bread sticks until we’re at, I don’t know, crusty bread I guess. I can’t even think that far ahead, honestly, maybe because in my heart I don’t actually believe she’ll ever eat bread.
In theory, if a kid gets to a less cautious point, a bridge food could have only a single variable in common with the target food. For instance, square waffles to square bread, pink pudding to pink yogurt, square cheese crackers to square slices of cheese, or circles of cheese to banana circles. The belief is that if we reduce the number of variables, then we reduce the number of ways a child can get herself worried about a new food.
How far this will take us remains to be seen.
*If I said “digest,” would that be too much pun?