That’s what my daughter was eating the other morning for breakfast. I’m not crowing (ok, maybe I am just a little) but my purpose here isn’t simply to give myself a big congratulatory blog-hug. It’s to fill you in on an easy technique that can revolutionize how your kids eat.
Parents ask me all the time how they can expand the repertoire of foods their kids eat, and I always reply: Implement variety with the foods your kids already eat.
In other words, routinely serve dinner food (falafel—or chicken nuggets) at breakfast (or lunch food at dinner). It is the first and easiest step you can take to put your kids on the road to new food acceptance. It’s a small change with a big effect.
Variety doesn’t always mean “new.”
The first step in teaching kids to eat a wider range of foods is to get them in the habit of eating different foods. I know that sounds like a contradiction, and you’re probably asking yourself: How can I get my kids to eat different things if they won’t touch anything new?
But different doesn’t always have to mean new.
One of the most destructive habits kids develop is becoming overly attached to eating the same small set of foods for each meal and snack.
This is most likely to happen at breakfast when kids cycle through a limited set of items that typically includes cereal, toast, eggs, pancakes and waffles. It also happens at other meals too…PB&J for lunch every day, anyone?
I don’t take much issue with those foods (though you should probably read A Spoonful of Sugar? and The Secret of Unsweetened Cereal before reaching for a box of Honey Nut Cheerios). My problem with overusing the same breakfast foods is that they:
- Set your kids’ expectations about what food is acceptable, and repetition is the opposite of new.
- Offer your kids a limited sensory experience because they all deliver basically the same bland, crunchy, bready, food encounter. Except for the eggs. Which we serve with toast.
You can introduce different foods using the same tried-and-true favorites your kids already willingly scoop up. All you have to do is mix up when you offer them.
Thinking they have to serve breakfast foods for breakfast, lunch foods for lunch, dinner foods for dinner and snack foods for snack hampers parents by limiting their choices. It sets up a series of False Choices.
It’s not surprising that parents get trapped by these false choices; there’s an industry working overtime to convince you that certain foods are appropriate for certain times. Breakfast is for bread-like products. Snack time is for something crunchy, out of a box or a bag. And dinner is the time for veggies.
But here’s a news flash: Chicken nuggets are no better or worse for your kids to eat at dinner than they are at breakfast. (And if you wouldn’t serve Goldfish crackers at breakfast, maybe you should reconsider their role in snacks. Read Goldfish vs. Bunnies.)
You can actually serve anything you want at any time!
In addition to the usual stuff (eggs, cereal, pancakes, bagels…) here are some of the things my daughter has eaten for breakfast:
- A plate with small mounds of peanuts, raisings, chickpeas, and dried mango
- Carrot and celery slices with hummus
- Chicken nuggets
- Cheese, Goldfish crackers, apple slices and broccoli
- ½ a turkey sandwich
- Apple slices with peanut butter and a glass of milk
- Bean and cheese burrito
And, of course falafel!
(Lest you think I cook any of these things in the morning, rest assured, I do not. These breakfasts are pieced together from food on hand, including leftovers and the freezer—I’m BIG a fan of Trader Joe’s. Remember, I’m a Slacker, and I know what it’s like to be too tired to cook).
Think outside the (cereal) box and eventually your kids will try new foods.
Breaking the connection between a meal and a set of foods changes your children’s expectations of what they will eat, and it’s this changed expectation that will make them more open to trying new foods. (Plus, new foods simply stand out less in a system where foods rotate than in a system where they stay the same).
But there’s more. Rotating through foods your kids already like, in a conscious way, wakes up your kids’ taste buds. As your kids get used to eating different flavors, different textures, and different food experiences, they’ll also become more open to new foods. The real kind—ones they’ve never tried before!
Read House Building 101.
Want to get started mixing-it up?
Make a list of everything your child regularly eats. Then just start, well, mixing it up!
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~