Isabelle’s Story: Blueberries for Dakota

Last month I attended a Suppers meeting where we discussed Bee Wilson’s book, First Bite: How We Learn To Eat. In her book, Wilson points to study after study that proves a child can learn to like any food as long as the child has that particular food in the world in which he lives. Wilson advocates a specific approach in which the child has repeated (at least 15), continuous (daily), small (the size of a grain of rice) exposures to the particular food. The child must actually taste the food during each encounter (licking counts). This practice, Wilson claimed, will have even the most stubborn toddler enjoying a wide range of foods.

Well, this sounded like the perfect Suppers experiment for me and my five-year-old daughter, Dakota. I anticipated sharing our results at the next Moms Suppers group, where parents, passionate about feeding their families healthy food, meet monthly to discuss good eating practices. I had gotten many excellent recipes, ideas and strategies from this group for everything from breakfast to dinnertime and snacking in between. I hoped I would be able to contribute positively to the group. Our experiment started with something easy, or so I thought, blueberries. Here is how it went.

Day one. I put one blueberry in a special, small, shallow blue bowl and approached her expectantly with it, explaining that this was an experiment and all she had to do was eat this single, delicious blueberry. Dakota refused and happily turned back to her playing. After twenty minutes of coaxing, begging and demanding, she finally ate it, making a vinegary face. I was dejected but up for the challenge.

Day two. My blue bowl and I chased Dakota around the house until I finally caught her. While I didn’t exactly pin her down and force-feed her the blueberry, let’s just say that neither one of us was happy after she finally ate it. I was beginning to question the wisdom of this approach.

Day three Dakota took one look at me holding the blue bowl and had a complete melt down – fists and feet pounding the floor and hysterical crying that seemed to have no end. I put the bowl down on the counter and busied myself with making dinner. She would not be consoled and I was shaken to my very core. I now knew that this experiment was not going to work for us. Dakota finally ate the blueberry about an hour later. I guess the poor thing thought she had to or she would never get any other food.

Day four. I don’t know what possessed me to continue, but I walked over to Dakota with a blueberry, in the blue bowl. She happily said, ok mommy, and immediately dropped the blueberry in her mouth.

Day five. I hadn’t yet had a chance to set up the blueberry in the blue bowl before Dakota ran over to the refrigerator, opened the fruit drawer and grabbed a handful of blueberries and threw them in her mouth.

Day six. I asked Dakota if she was ready for her blueberries, and she excitedly chanted blueberries – blueberries – blueberries, while I got them out of the refrigerator for her.

While these experiments are working for us and we plan to continue with them, I am not completely without concern. A food experiment like this, involving the mother determining the variables of the experiment and the child, especially a very young child, basically left with no choice but to comply, does cause some anxiety for me. Perhaps Dakota acclimated to the taste of the blueberry and decided she did in fact like it after several tries. But maybe she didn’t like the taste, didn’t like being coerced and, in an effort to secure my love and approval, sweetly and excitedly ate the blueberries.

We continued with blueberries for nine more days and have since moved on to sugar snap peas and kiwi. These foods may not be her favorites, or even wind up in the regular rotation. However, she understands a lot more about trying new things and that you may like something the tenth time you try it even when you didn’t like it the first nine times.