Magic in Numbers

We are all familiar with the face children (and some adults) make when trying new foods. One can get lost in the hours of YouTube footage on “baby’s first tastes,” and each video portrays a look of confusion or even disgust. However, despite these initial reactions, most of those babies then go on to happily anticipate these new foods.

This should be a lesson to all of us. During feeding therapy, parents frequently state that their child does not like x or y food. When asked how many times they have tried to give that food to their child, the response is usually less than two times. Here is some advice:

Don’t give up after one attempt. Don’t even give up after eight attempts.

Research shows that the average child needs to be exposed to a new food 10 times before accepting the food in his/her regular repertoire (Birch, Johnston & Fisher, 1995). This is an average child. No diagnoses and no previous negative experiences with food, e.g., how it felt or affected the child’s body. So what does this mean for you and your child? It means that a child in feeding therapy may need much more than 10 exposures to readily accept a new food.

Now, this is not a recommendation to flood your child with a particular food or offer it every meal for 10 days straight.  Spread out exposures to new foods across weeks.  Choose a time that works best for you and your child, e.g., when your child is in a good mood and you are feeling relaxed. It is alright if your child does not immediately pick up the food and put it in his/her mouth. Your feeding therapist can help you work up to that and discuss a plan to help your child transfer the skills he or she learns in feeding therapy to home. It will take repetition and time to eliminate old habits, overcome negative emotions/feelings, and develop new positive ones.