Do you find meal preparation and mealtime difficult due to a fussy eater in your family? You’re not alone! It can be terribly frustrating when your child does not want to eat the healthy food you prepared and things can get messy if it is thrown all over the floor!
Instead of worrying about fussy eating, it is important to accept that fussy eating is a natural part of children’s development. The good news is that there are a range of strategies which you can implement to counteract fussy eating and make meal time more enjoyable for everyone involved. Our educators have compiled the following tips from their training and day-in-day-out experience handling the ever changing preferences of children.
Firstly, it is important to understand that children’s appetites are affected by their growth cycles and influenced by their development. The tastes and preferences of children can change naturally, so children often fall into the fussy eater category at some time or another.
Particularly between the ages of 1-6 years, it is very common for children to be super hungry one day and picky about what they eat the next. In some cases fussy eating isn’t about the food, instead often children are wanting to speak out and be independent.
Try these tips to make fussy eaters more manageable:
Make meal times happy, regular and enjoyable occasions. Meal times should be undistracted by TV, and shared as a family. Implementing a routine can be important so that children know when to expect dinner and what behaviour is expected from them. Remember that mealtime can be messy of course, but focusing on the social component and importance of food is better than stressing over spilt food or drink. Where possible, try to enjoy the meal with your child so that they can see that you like it too. This can simply involve making yourself a salad with the same vegetables or having a square of their sandwich.
If you are trying to introduce new foods to your child, work out realistic expectations and don’t force your child to finish a whole plate of something they ‘hate’. You can start small by asking you child to lick a new food and eventually work towards a mouthful over time. Praising your child for any attempts and effort is vital. Never force your child to try a food as this can turn mealtime into a negative experience. Remember there will be plenty of other opportunities to try new foods, flavours and combinations so it might be worth just waiting until the timing is better.
Have a certain time limit to the meal time, such as 20 minutes. Make sure you child understands that what isn’t eaten in that period, will be put away and there won’t be food available until the next planned meal or snack time. Don’t prepare a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal as this can promote picky eating. Instead encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime and focus on it being a positive experience even if they don’t want that specific meal.
If your child is really fussy about certain foods, ignore this behaviour as much as you can. It is important to not focus too much attention on their fussy habits as this can encourage them to continue this behaviour. Instead of focusing on the fussy behaviour, encourage independence by giving your child lots of healthy food options and allowing them to choose themselves. Often independent children like to have a role in the food preparation so allow them to wash the tomatoes for their sandwich or whisk the egg for their omelet.
Rachel from Little Peeps eats wrote a blog post with Jodie Read, Certified Paediatric Dietitian. Their blog also suggested planting some seeds and asking your child to water them every day with you. When they are ready to pick, get your child to pick it and take it to the kitchen. They can wash it, and chop it for dinner.
Another great idea suggested by Jodie and Rachel was to find children’s books that discuss fruit and vegetables in a positive way and read to them at night before bed. It doesn’t need to be discussed in relation to their picky eating, simply just read the book to them. A great book is Charlie and Lola I won’t ever eat a tomato.
Avoid using unhealthy foods as rewards, for example don’t suggest that “if you finish your sandwich, you can have a lollypop for dessert”. The focus should be on the benefit of eating the sandwich and this focus shouldn’t rely on an unhealthy reward afterwards.
If your child seems to have a poor appetite, get them running around and more active during the day. The more a child moves, the hungrier they will become and the more nutrients they will consume by eating more.
There are many ways to make healthy meals more fun which can be important for children. Stimulate their senses by cutting the sandwich into different shapes or create shapes on the plate with the different foods. You may also like to include the children into the food preparation so they feel part of the process. Here is a delicious and healthy recipe to get the children involved in the kitchen.
Some extreme cases of fussy eating may require further attention by seeking tailored advice from a health professional. You can speak to the Care for Kindies team about fussy eating for further advice. Little Peeps Eats directory also has some recommended service providers.