You know the drill: when you buy chicken nuggets you have to buy Tyson or Weaver or even Applegate Naturals. Otherwise dinner is going to be flop. Ever said, I have to buy _________?

We all have some sort of brand loyalty. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it. I’m a Hellmann’s mayonnaise gal. Don’t even try serving me Miracle Whip. (Don’t ask where that word gal came from. Not my language, but it feels right in this context.)  Brand loyalty eases the shopping burden. And with over 40,000 items in the average grocery store, we all need something to cut down on the decisions. But here’s the thing. If you’re trying to expand your child’s palette of acceptable foods, giving into brand loyalty is nuts. Understandable. But nuts.

Giving kids who are reluctant to try new foods a Skippy Peanut Butter sandwich every day—because that’s the brand they demand—is akin to parental suicide. It is like begging your kids never to try anything new again.

Read more from How Brands Bite You in the Buttt Also check out The Variety Masquerade.

The first step in teaching children to accept new foods is to break brand loyalty. It’s easier than you think.

Think about it this way, learning to eat different chicken nuggets is the first step on the road to learning to eat asparagus. Ludicrous, you say? Not so. This is a mindset thing. Kids who expect and receive the same tasting food at every turn never learn the skills it takes to accept variation.

Brand foods taste exactly same every time you eat them. Exactly. They look the same. Exactly. They smell the same. Exactly. You get my point.

I’m a pretty good cook, and yet, it’s impossible for me to replicate—exactly—anything I prepare.

The summer is a great time to work on break the brand addiction.

Kids are around more and you don’t have to worry about them eating at school. Plus, kids are generally less picky about “off” brands when it comes to summer fun. Think popsicles. Ice cream. Fruit drinks. (Yes, it’s ok to start with these foods.)

Below I outline the steps to breaking brand loyalty. But here’s the key: introduce enough variation that your kids notice the difference but not too much variation that they shut down. If you’re having trouble finding that line, call me and we’ll figure it out together.

Step One: Breath. And tell yourself that you don’t need your child to eat whatever you’ve prepared. Now, mean it!

The more you need kids to eat any particular thing, the more you feel at their mercy.  Yes, I know you don’t want to be a short-order chef (DON’T go there) and you can’t stand the idea that your child might get hungry at midnight.

Make sure you serve either a sure-fire snack that is healthy (or healthy enough) on days that you introduce variation. You can bookend these snacks around the meal, just plan them into the schedule rather than dream them up in response to your child’s whining.

Step Two: Tell your child that you know she loves her chicken nuggets, her favorite cheese or yogurt or whatever. Then say something about the variation you’re introducing and about your child being “old enough now” to branch out.

You can start by serving:

  • The same food cut into different shapes
  • A different brand of the same flavor/item
  • The same brand but a different flavor/item
  • Make your own version of the item.

In other words, chicken nuggets cut into triangles might be a lot of variation for some kids. On the other hand, blueberry yogurt made my a different manufacturer could do the trick. Or, perhaps you’ll buy yellow cheddar instead of orange.

Step Three: Remind yourself about Step One.

Begging, whining, etc. are behavior problems, not food problems. Solve them however you would solve any other behavioral problem.

Step Four: Make continued variation of known foods a priority, i.e., don’t get stuck having to provide the new chicken nuggets.

This is how eating skills develop and habits are formed. So mix things up for continued success.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~