Most children display fussy eating habits at some stage of their development. This is normal; however there may be headaches if fussy eating escalates to World War III at meal times. Here are my 3 strategies you should use to tame even the fussiest of eaters…
Suffering with the terrible two’s? Perhaps your precious one can be ‘not-so-precious’ when it comes to eating their broccoli? So early in life your child needs to learn how to differentiate between the shape, colour or texture of particular foods. Most of the time fussy eating isn’t about food – it’s often about children wanting to be independent. It’s also normal for children to go through phases; they may absolutely love something one day but hate it the next. Remember as well that their appetites go up and down depending on how much they’re growing and how active they may eat more or less from day to day.
At the end of a busy day I can understand that it may be tempting to give in to juice and crackers for dinner to prevent a screaming match, but don’t be deterred. There are simple strategies that can be adopted that address fussy eating and that will help your child to develop healthy eating patterns for the future.
1. Be patient when things get messy
Expect your child to take a long time to eat their meal. They may take a little while to explore what is being presented to them. They may take even longer to coordinate themselves to pick things up with their hands (or even worse tiny cutlery), manage to bring the food somewhere in the vicinity of their mouth and to start again if they accidentally hit their nose, check or ear. That sounds tiring just reading it, so you can understand if your little one gets frustrated. Be patient with them and yourself.
Try not to react to the screams and spills on the floor or all over your child. The best way to deal with this behaviour and the mess is to expect it! Giving fussy eating more attention can sometimes encourage children to keep behaving this way. Stay calm and praise your child for trying new food or eating healthy, familiar food.
2. Eat with your child
Never underestimate how much your child learns from you and mimics your behaviour. Include your child at family meal times. They may be messy and they may be slow but they love and need the social interaction that is a part of meal times. If they see everyone else at the table enjoying their meal, they are likely to do the same thing and not get hung up on a new or weird looking food on their plate. Remember, your child is experiencing new textures and flavours that they are uncertain about and are looking for reassurance and reinforcement. By setting a good example and eating with your child they will feel confident to try new foods and develop a healthy relationship with food.
As you know children can get easily distracted especially if there is too much noise and stimulation. If this sounds like your child, minimise external distractions (turn the TV off) and try having quiet time before meals so they can calm down before eating. You could try getting into a routine of hand-washing before eating.
3. Promote self-feeding
Children should be encouraged to feed themselves as soon as possible. The more independence they develop, the less you will need to be a helicopter parent during meal times. Don’t force your child to eat, offer them choice – cleverly. Instead of asking, “What do you want for lunch?” try, “What shape would you like your sandwich cut?” Instead of asking, “Do you want peas tonight?” try, “Would you like peas or carrots?”
If you provide nutritious choices to children they are more likely to take ownership of their decisions and appreciate nutritious foods later in life. Don’t get stressed if they won’t eat their cauliflower, give them something else instead. Eventually they will accept it – and if they don’t, move on to another option. Remember that there would be at least one or two things that you don’t like eating either.