Watching another child happily tuck into a plate of nutritious delights that would trigger tears and tantrums in your own household can be depressing and demoralising. It is all too easy for us Mums (and others…erhum, no mother-in-laws mentioned) to blame ourselves for our child’s fussy eating habits.
Fussy eating can have a number of causes including genes, illness, parents eating habits, a power struggle between parent and child or the result of limited food choice during the first years.
The most important thing is to not give-up – whilst kids all go through phases of eating certain foods, the more variety of tastes, textures and colours you can get your child to eat early on, the more likely they are to keep eating these health-boosting foods into adulthood.
So here are our top tips for tackling fussy eaters…
- Sit down to a healthy family meal at least once a week, like a Sunday roast. Get your kids involved in choosing a recipe, writing the shopping list, buying the food and cooking it. Avoid any foods that you know they don’t like but include a food you think they might be persuaded to try. Eating healthily in front of your children is a great example to set and can really help kids to eat well too.
- Don’t use dessert as a reward or refuse to give them dessert if they haven’t finished their main meal as it gives kids the wrong message about healthy eating. Instead, offer a dessert such as fresh or baked fruit, an oat bar or yoghurt and limit the unhealthier desserts to once a week or special occasions.
- Try playing some food games with your child such as blindfold taste tests where you both get to feed each other some pieces of chopped up foods. Ask them to describe the taste and texture – is it sweet, bitter, soft, crunchy. Include some new foods and some foods that your child likes and avoid foods you know they hate otherwise it won’t be fun for them.
- If your child is not great with fruit and vegetables, try making a fruit and vegetable picture and leave it in front of them to graze on while you are cooking their dinner – they may just be hungry enough to eat it all and not having you watching over them might give them the space they need to try the foods in their own time.
- Banish meal-time power struggles by changing the focus – talk about fun things that happened that day, read them a story, sing some songs, look at photos together… giving your child your full attention means they don’t have to refuse to eat to get your attention, which can help to make mealtimes less stressful or even enjoyable!
- Try to keep it calm during meals – try playing some relaxing music while cooking and during the meal to help keep everyone calm and the mood positive. Also, make sure you set enough time aside for the meal so no one is in a hurry to rush off.
- If your child always wants to get down from the table after only a few mouthfuls, limit the snacks you give them during the day – whilst snacks are important for young kids, some children become used to filling up on them and skipping meals. Limiting snacks for the short-term should help to get their appetite back on track and mean they are hungry when it is time to eat a proper, balanced meal.
- Give a little respect – often kids respond better to trying new foods if they know they do not have to like it, but trying it is what gets them the praise. It may take over ten tastings before they start to accept a new food and tastings should be spread over weeks and months. Also remember we all dislike some foods so if they are adamant they don’t like it, stop trying to feed it to them.
- If your fussy eater is about to start school, consider signing them up for school meals. This can be a great way of getting kids to enjoy new foods that they see their peers eating. But be wary – this tactic doesn’t work for all fussy eaters and some will end up not eating, hungry and too low on energy to enjoy school so packed lunches will be needed.
- Don’t feel you have to always hide foods in meals, furiously blending pasta sauces so your child has no idea what they are eating. While hiding foods is an easy way of getting nutrients into them, also take the time to let them try the food in its whole form.
- If all else fails, plan some play dates with other kids who are good eaters and see if they can persuade your child to eat her broccoli!
If you are still struggling, email us and we will see how we can help.