The fussy eater … it’s a story as old as the hills and something that touches most of us during the early years of parenting. In fact, winning over fussy eaters is almost like a parenting rite of passage.
It seems hard to swallow (pardon the pun) that something as simple as eating can be such a laborious, time-consuming, energy-draining event. We expect the art of putting food in their mouths to come easy to our little ones, but like any other life skill – whether it’s potty training, walking, reading and writing – eating the right foods is a learned behaviour that requires guidance, direction and perseverance.
In some ways, labelling your child a ‘fussy eater’ is a reflection on yourself (medical conditions aside). It’s like saying “my child can’t read yet” and pointing the finger at their teacher. It usually takes work at home as well as time spent thinking outside the box to turn things around for the child.
5 New Tips to Tempt Fussy Eaters
1. Make it familiar
Have you ever heard your child say ‘I don’t like it’ when they haven’t even lifted a morsel to their mouth? This is usually in fear of something new.
Begin to introduce your children to new food in a different way before you serve it on the dinner plate. So, for instance, use celery bases for dipping into the paint and making flower shapes, or beetroot to cut shapes into and use as a stamp. Let them get messy and personal with all their senses to increase familiarity.
2. Watch the sugar
Fussy eating can be mistaken for simply not having an appetite. The first thing to do is cut down on sugar between meals.
How will this help, I hear you ask?
Keeping up a running supply of food during the afternoon spoils the chance for them to be genuinely hungry enough to enjoy a nutrient-dense meal, a meal which would hold their satiety levels well until the next meal or scheduled snack. Limiting liquid calories and even water during meals can also increase vital space in little tummies.
3. Plan your attack!
Work with your kids and plan your attack. I know if my girls are coming home from school and kindy after a tiring day, it’s best not to serve up something new. Something like spaghetti bolognese with wholemeal pasta and grated veggies or a healthy homemade pizza is going to go down best.
We know ourselves how our moods dictate what we feel like eating, so it’s no wonder some meals are met with a turned-up nose by our kids. It also helps to let them choose in the afternoon between two healthy meals (or whatever is in the freezer) for dinner or even just a choice between the carbohydrate component of the meal (e.g. chicken casserole served with brown rice or potatoes). This gives them a sense of control over their meal and hopefully enhances their interest in what is being served up. Try and pre-empt their preferences and reactions and this will save a lot of frustration come dinnertime!
4. Invite the fairies /superheroes
Take the focus off ‘you’ serving the meal and make it fun – an approach similar to a rewards chart. You could tell your kids, “Spiderman gets his energy from red foods” (tomato, capsicum, apples, etc) or “The fairies left a special vegetable to try from their own fairy garden” (lots of greens). You can even make up a cute handwritten note and leave it on the fridge pretending to be fairies/Spiderman/Ben 10 … whoever your kid most admires. Say something like, “I thought you would like to try my favourite veggie/fruit.” This will help build excitement and curiosity at dinner.
5. Get moving
This isn’t a new tip, but something that is highly underrated and overlooked. How much does your own appetite go through the roof after you’ve been running around outside? Sure, there’s a fine line between being overtired and hungry with children, but for most of us hungry means a willingness to adapt to new foods or simply just eat any meal at all. Good old-fashioned hunger! So go outside and get huffy and puffy with your children – it’s great fun to spend active time together and will increase those feel-good endorphins as well. Get the meal prepped beforehand, then go race around like crazy for an hour or two and come home to a healthy meal that you’ll have definitely worked up an appetite for.
As a final note, bribes and threats realistically have their place in parenting but don’t rely on them day in, day out. Food shouldn’t be a bargaining game; constant negotiation doesn’t create healthy attitudes or ultimately change behaviour. Relax a little and your kids will relax too. You can’t replace good nutrition, so continue to be a role model and focus energy towards using your words differently. Tastebuds need time to adapt or change, so action the two P’s – patience and perseverance!