Dealing With Fussy Eaters
There are many things that can challenge even the most patient of parents but a fussy eater can be right up there with a child that doesn’t sleep. Hours spent creating home-made meals can often be a complete waste of time, a demoralising exercise that can test the very best of us! Whether you made your own steamed fruit purees when weaning your little one or opted for meals from the supermarket, it seems neither approach guarantees a child won’t be fussy as they get older.
Often mealtimes become a battle of wills between parent and child, rather than about them actually disliking a particular food, so some simple changes in approach could make all the difference.
Food shopping and cooking together
When shopping let your child choose something they haven’t tried before, or give them the choice of two things to pick from. Getting them involved in the process before the meal hits the table is a good way to encourage them to try new things. The same goes for cooking together. You may be surprised by their enthusiasm if they can help make the meal with you and it’s a great way for them to learn about ingredients too.
You decide what, they decide how much
Children don’t know the first thing about nutrition so we can’t expect them to make good choices by themselves. Focus on providing food that you are happy for them to eat (which can of course include treats and sweet things in moderation) and then let them decide how much of it they want with the understanding that there isn’t anything else on offer.
Let them have a bit of a say
Although meals should be down to the parent, giving them options like peas vs carrots or peach vs strawberry flavoured yoghurt, means they are more likely to go along with the meal as a whole.
Don’t worry – They won’t starve
When you first have a baby, a large part of your time is spent making sure they gain weight but by the time they are two or three you don’t have to be quite as concerned. Don’t be pushed into giving in to their latest demand because you don’t want them to ‘go hungry’. Not eating much at one meal won’t do them any harm; they’ll probably just be hungrier at their next meal.
Limit the treats
It’s common sense but we are all guilty of it. The fewer sweets and treats you have in the house, the less likely the children are to ask for them, so while they’re going through a fussy phase try and buy less or keep them well out of sight. If they’re hungry you can offer them an alternative snack. Limiting treats while they’re going through a fussy eating phase will also stop them from filling up on them between meals. When mealtimes are no longer a problem you can reintroduce treats as you feel is appropriate for your child.
Fruit can be a treat
Much as adults love them, it’s easy to understand why some vegetables with their strong tastes and crunchy textures aren’t always enthusiastically received by kids. Fruit on the other hand, with sweet tastes and bright colours, can be made into a treat. Try to incorporate some into most meals and they’ll be well on their way to their 5 a day.
Snacks are fine
There’s nothing wrong with snacks particularly for younger children who don’t eat so much at mealtimes. The important thing is to get the size and timing right. If you want them to be hungry at their next meal time then snacks should only be small and ideally at least a couple of hours before you want them to eat again.
A routine makes sure they are hungry at mealtimes
If you can work towards mealtimes happening around the same time every day, children are likely to start to get hungry at that time and are then more likely to eat well.
They may genuinely not like something
If there is something they will never eat regardless of their mood, how you present it or where you are, it may well be that they are not being awkward and they actually don’t like it. As adults we all have something we don’t like (mushrooms anyone?) and this can be true of children.
Things to avoid
Sometimes it can be us, the parents, who are actually encouraging our children to be fussy without even knowing it. Avoiding certain phrases at mealtimes can have a hugely positive effect.
“Eat your peas please” – by focusing on the last thing left on the plate your child is even less likely to eat it. You have more chances of them eating it if you don’t mention it.
“No pudding unless you finish your dinner” – by using pudding as a bribe you are conveying that the savoury element is a chore.
Attitude is as important as nutrition in the long run
Of course, providing a balanced diet is crucial but turning meal times into a battle for the sake of a spoonful of peas is not going to lead to a healthy attitude to food in the long run. Once you’ve got point 1 sorted and you’re happy that they are getting a good mix of foods throughout the week you can relax a bit. Worrying less if they have chosen not to eat well at one particular meal will make meal times more pleasant for them, and you.