Gone are the days of childhood watermelon seed spitting competitions, a customary afterschool summer tradition of times gone by. Our kids today won’t get to share these childhood memories, and in fact, most won’t even know that watermelons have seeds, let alone how to spit them.
Meet the new ‘seedless watermelon generation’. A generation of kids influenced by a market where the majority of watermelons sold are seedless, driven in part by the rise of ‘fussy eating’, a phenomenon that as parents and grandparents, we struggle with daily as we worry about whether our kids are getting the right nutrition.
The contributing factors are multiplex. Could it be the abundance of food we are so used to in the Western world? Or the advancements in technology allowing for refrigeration and storage? Perhaps the farming techniques that result in food being available across all seasons? Or the consumer push for convenience as we rush through our daily lives trying to meet the demands of work, soccer practice, music rehearsals, homework, all the while trying to squeeze in a few hours of sleep each night – somewhere! Whatever the reason, the reality is ‘fussy eating’ is a thing, and dinner tables are turning into battlegrounds that rival the world wars of years gone by.
Have a picnic on the trampoline or write a funny note in the lunchbox. Positive Psychology research teaches us that positive emotions open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive, creative and connected. And this can apply to trying new foods.
Sometimes children seem ‘fussy’ but really, it’s just that by the time dinner comes they’re not hungry because perhaps they have been filling up on the ‘not so nutritious’ snacks or juice and other drinks. Serve the veggies first and then leave additional snacks or drinks for after.
We all know that our children watch our every move and can mimic them to perfection. So, capitalise on this innate ability children have to copy us, positively, by modelling healthy eating behaviours.
The more a child can be involved in the process of food preparation, the more they will want to try the fruits of their labour. I have delivered cooking programs at schools and the number of times I’ve had parents message to say ‘Little Janey has always refused to eat anything green and now she wants kale for dinner every night’ all because little Janey had a fun time growing and cooking her kale at school. Five-year-olds have the skills to make simple snacks, and by ten, they have the skills to make their breakfast, cook dinner and pack lunch.
Channel your inner soccer Mum or Dad and use your best coaching techniques to talk with your child about the problem (usually the broccoli!) and involve them in the solution. Ask them what is the problem and listen with empathy patiently acknowledging the excruciating mental anguish they experience accompanied with gagging every time they have to even look at broccoli! Dramatic – I know!
Perhaps share a time when you didn’t like your broccoli (because there was a time when you too made life hell for your parents around the dinner table!). Explain the ‘why’ and align it with something the child values. For example, in the case of my 10-year-old son, who is on the trajectory to be the next soccer superstar (insert Lionel Messi) it’s all about foods that help him play the best soccer – that’s what he values. Then involve them in the solution by asking ‘so, what can we do about it?’. Provide structured age-appropriate choices – for example, ‘you can choose the broccoli or the carrot today’. Providing children of all ages opportunities to use their voices, make decisions, develop ownership, and solve problems invites cooperation and is also a great way to bond with them too.
Research shows that children need to be exposed to different food 8-10 times for it to be accepted. Try the one bite rule, asking the child to try at least one solid mouthful of a food whenever it is served. After enough exposure, the food hopefully will be more familiar and eaten without any fuss.
Whatever strategies you choose to implement, you need to celebrate the small wins – this is the ultimate key to changing habits. Any accomplishment, whether that be having one piece of baby spinach, or having one family dinner without World War III erupting, no matter how small, celebrating activates the reward circuit of our brains, and so we start to get addicted to progress.
Looking to the future of champion watermelon seed spitters
No matter how frustrating it is when your child stubbornly refuses to try that brussell sprout, try to drum up all your strength and courage to stay positive and implement one of these tips. Let’s look to the future for a new set of champion watermelon seed spitters!
Emily is a Nutritional Medicine practitioner, writer, speaker, facilitator and trainer. Emily combines her passion for Nutritional Medicine with her background in Occupational Therapy, mental health and management to support people to achieve health and inspire wellness.
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