Do you have a fussy eater in your household? If so, you’ll know the huge amounts of stress that can be caused by seemingly endless arguments at mealtimes, not to mention the wasted time and effort preparing meals which end up in the bin, or worse, on the floor. Although frustrating, most children do eventually grow out of being extremely fussy and in the meantime there are a few ways you can encourage them to broaden their food choices. If you have a fussy eater on your hands (most families seem to have at least one!), here are a few tricks you can try to help your child expand their dietary repertoire and make mealtimes less of a battleground.
Prepare meals together
Make meal preparation a time for fun and working together. Let your little one add ingredients to dishes, sprinkle herbs or stir in the milk. Measuring out a teaspoon of liquid is good balancing practice and adding four teaspoons calls on counting skills, too. Give your child a board and a plastic grater for some cheese or ask them to chop a courgette with a butter knife. If you can cope with the initial spillages, letting them get the family drinks will help develop their coordination.
Eat As A Family
This will create a relaxed environment. Getting angry with your child may turn mealtimes into a stressful occasion which can make the problem worse. Try to turn off the television, praise your child for good manners and when they try new food and keep conversation light. Seeing other family members eating and enjoying a range of different foods may help encourage your child to be more adventurous.
Expecting a clean plate at each meal is probably unrealistic. Young children, especially toddlers are often grazers and forcing them to finish everything could set them up for a negative attitude towards food in later years. You can encourage your child to try everything in front of them (if they don’t like it they don’t have to finish it). Praise them for taking a bite or even a lick of an unfamiliar food. One day they may surprise themselves by liking something new.
Snaking up between mealtimes is a bad idea. If your child isn’t eating their meals maybe they aren’t hungry. Filling up on less nutritious snacks before mealtimes can make it even harder to get your child to try healthy food. Try not to keep junk food around the house. That way, when your child does eventually feel hungry, there will only be healthy snacks available. Likewise, giving your child a sandwich or some chips after they haven’t eaten their meal tells them that if they refuse healthy food they will get something else later.
Don’t Focus On Fussiness
Giving your child a lot of attention for their fussy eating habits could turn food refusal into a way to get attention rather than being about the food itself. Although you want to encourage your child to eat new food, turning it into a performance may have the opposite effect. A good way to approach the situation is to ask your child to try something, if they don’t, say “ok, we’ll try again another time,” and drop the subject.
Being given a choice can provide your child with some measure of control over the process. Make sure you give them the choice between two healthy foods (anyone who is asked to choose between chocolate and broccoli is probably not going to pick the broccoli). Making their own choices can encourage independence in children and toddlers and they may be more inclined to eat something they have chosen than something that has been thrust on them.
Don’t Give Up
After endless failed attempts to get your child to try new food it can be tempting to give up and just offer them plain rice or juice at every meal. Children often need to be exposed to new foods multiple times before they become familiar enough to try them. Keep offering a small amount of new food alongside more familiar foods ” one day your child may just surprise you!
Food shopping with kids
Let your child choose an item to buy from the supermarket – so long as it’s something they’ve never tried before. When they’re old enough, give them a little money to buy a new food (also a great way of learning numbers and costs). Younger children will love washing up, tearing up salad or getting messy with some floury dough. If the meal’s a success, celebrate by inviting one of their friends around and cook it again.