First and foremost, there is no greater frustration than having a child who is refusing to eat. We know as parents, that food is a vital component to overall nutrition and brain power. In addition, I think being “hangry” is an actual emotion and not having a good food source may correspond to increased moodiness, irritability, and caloric deficit.
Often I meet parents who tell me they have resorted to hiding non-preferred foods in preferred foods to get their child to eat more nutrient enriched foods. Whether this is something you are doing by choice or being instructed to do, One Bite wants to give you some alternative reasons why food hiding can lead to increasing your child’s restrictive diet.
Before we talk about the “why nots”, what is it that might be getting you to the point of food hiding? It could be a range of things:
Your child may be unwilling to try new foods
Your child may avoid fruits or vegetables or proteins
Your child may display increased behaviors during mealtimes (e.g., crying, pushing food away, etc.)
Whether it’s one, a combination or all of the above, food hiding is just a band-aid to the actual feeding issue.
Imagine if you were eating your favorite food, maybe a grilled quesadilla or pasta and suddenly you bite into something you’re not sure what it is, but you know it’s
not something that is usually in or should be in your favorite dish. After exploring your food, you find thin, very small pieces of salmon. You can’t stand salmon; you have disliked it since you were a child and now it’s ended up in your favorite food dish. The next time you eat your favorite food, you inspect it and eat very little of this once favorite food or worse case you won’t even touch it anymore.
There are two possible negative results you get with food hiding:
Your child will become suspicious of anything you give them to eat, you may see them start to deconstruct their food (e.g., pulling apart eating one part at a time, etc.)
They will no longer eat the food that they either once loved or a food that is a large staple in their diet.
Now you might be saying to yourself, “Well that’s never happened, I’ve hid it very well.” What I want to ask you, “Is it worth the risk?” If your child has a limited diet consisting of less than 20 foods, you run the risk of losing food in an already limited diet. In addition, if your child has a diet of less than 10 foods, it could significantly impact their food intake which could have serious medical repercussions.
There are some instances where food hiding can work. Specifically, when it comes to smoothies and sauces. Families report they have blended peas and or carrots into pizza sauces or adding bananas into smoothies. These can all be effective in adding some additional nutrients but again is only a band-aid for restrictive eating.
What can you do in place of food hiding?
Up front presentation. Make sure you are presenting small quantities of non-preferred foods as part of every meal and providing praise for any interaction with the food (e.g., your child touches it, or tolerates it being out, etc.).
Pair the preferred and non-preferred foods together in front of the child in plain sight as to not be “sneaky”
Try, Try, Try Again. A new behavior is NOT created overnight, it will take repeated practice. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself presenting foods anywhere from 12-18 times if not more. Yes! It could take that long.
Consistency is key! The more consistent you are the more successful you will be over time.
Have more questions about food hiding or any other feeding concern, send an email or check our events page for upcoming workshops.