Top Tips to Tackle Fussy Eating
Is your child a fussy eater?
We all want our children to be happy, healthy and well behaved. Unfortunately, while we do our best to raise well-adjusted children, there are those that struggle with one thing or another and for some, fussy eating is a big issue.
When it comes time to wean your baby onto solid food, many parents find that things are going well, your baby enjoys the new experiences that each meal time brings and while a lot of your carefully prepared meals end up everywhere but in the mouth, babies are generally pretty keen to try new things and even the foods that they don’t take to initially will usually become acceptable after a few attempts.
For many parents, the real problems are yet to come. As your baby develops into a toddler and you offer a wider variety of soft and solid food of varying colours, textures and tastes, some toddlers suddenly decide that unless it’s pasta with butter, it’s not going in.
For parents, mealtimes can often turn into an anxious battle of wills. You worry about their nutritional intake, how it affects their growth and equally, behaviour can become an issue too.
Planning for change
Children, even the very young, learn quickly what they can and cannot do and where their boundaries are set. As parents, it’s hard enough getting through the day to day challenges of getting out the door, attending various activities or doing the school run. Meal times needn’t be stressful but getting the balance right from the start will take some hard work and commitment on your part.
Setting some ‘ground rules’ is key to ensuring that your plan of action starts and continues on successfully. It will be challenging at first, these habits were not created in a day and your children will very likely have it all worked out already! If they cry or protest enough, they’ll get the meal they prefer and this sometimes means that you can find yourself cooking various meals much like a short order cook rather than being able to enjoy happy mealtimes around the table as a family.
Timing is everything and it is a good idea to give some real thought to just how you would like your children to eat and behave at mealtimes. Discuss your plans with your family, even toddlers can be involved in the discussion so that you are laying the foundations for change and everyone has plenty of time to understand the new meal plan and what’s to come. You may wish to draw up a weekly meal plan, including some food favourites, adding some new and exciting options to the menu.
Time for action
It may be a good idea to start your new meal plan on a weekend or ideally during a half term if you have pre-school age children or toddlers attending nursery. Ensure that older family members are aware of the changes and prepared to stick to the new ‘rules’ to reinforce the changes for good.
Consider the following when implementing your changes:
✔ Plan all meals, including snacks
✔ Shop accordingly and ensure that you have a variety of new dishes as well as some old favourites
✔ Eat as a family whenever possible, this is not only leading by example but also offers a great opportunity for quality family time
✔ Eat at the dining table if you have one available, this will clearly define mealtimes
✔ Set some basic table rules such as not leaving the table without being excused or until such time as a reasonable effort has been made to try new food or to eat a sensible amount of whatever is provided
✔ Be firm in your approach, children are very aware of their boundaries and if you give in then they learn to keep pushing until you do every time.
✔ If a meal isn’t eaten, offer fruit before bed to ensure that they have a healthy option and sustenance for a good night’s sleep.
✔ Do not offer alternatives and do not cook multiple meals on request
✔ Don’t be afraid to offer stronger tasting food, as long as it’s not too spicy or intense, your child will learn to accept them in time
✔ Offer a reward system. A special sticker after the meal or a an item to place in a ‘good meal jar’ that can act as a larger reward once a certain number of special items have been collected. This could be pizza night or a trip out for an ice-cream and so on. This reinforces the idea of trying new food and allows children to see the benefits of their efforts while also building their self-confidence.
✔ Set out the mealtime rules at the beginning of every meal. You may state what the meal is, how much needs to be eaten.
✔ If your child does not eat the meal, there is no reward and no dessert. Offer fruit some time later, at the table but no other meals should be offered.
Stick to the plan
The above guidance may seem obvious but in practice, it’s not likely to run as smoothly. You will need to be very committed to seeing the process through and there will no doubt be times where you feel there is no point in carrying on and it’s not worth the battle. It is. Keep at it and you will soon see the results, usually within a couple of days but certainly within a week.
It is important to ensure that your child is experiencing a balanced change, breakfast is usually the one meal of the day that goes reasonably well and if your child is slightly hungrier at breakfast due to a dinner of fruit only from the night before, all the better. Offer the usual breakfast option along with something new to try too. Keep it light and fun, don’t put too much pressure on the new food so that your child is sure to get a good portion of food from what he likes, to fuel his day from the start. Add new foods as things improve.
Lunch time is an ideal opportunity to introduce a new meal. You may wish to alternate familiar meals with new ones every other day and as things improve, you can slowly introduce more new foods to replace the old favourites if they’re not as healthy and varied as they could be.
Dinner time is usually the most difficult to change and as such, it is important that you focus on this meal time as the one where you make the most changes initially. It can be tricky in the beginning but stick with it. If you persevere and remain strong through the initial few days, you will be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
There will be times when things don’t go to plan. If your child is ill or you have visitors over, it may be a better idea to offer an ‘old favourite’ in place of something new. That is fine and perfectly acceptable, but as far as possible, stick to the general table ‘rules’ and reward system to keep reinforcing the changes. Pick up again at the next meal time or the following day and do not give in.
Vegetables are perhaps the biggest hurdle for many fussy eaters. Unless they’re hidden in Bolognese or tucked under a blanket of mash potato, it can be a challenge at the best of times. Address the issue of vegetables head-on. Involve your children in the process of selecting vegetables at the supermarket, get them home, show them how to wash them, peel then (with supervision of course!) and how to grate, slice, dice and chop them into delicious little morsels of nature on a plate. You can get as creative as you like, your children will enjoy interacting and being part of the process and even a little taste when you first start, is something more than you would have had from them a week ago.
The important thing initially is to get your children interested in food. They are far more likely to be open to trying new food if they’ve been involved from the start. If you can’t face the thought of trawling the isles of the supermarket with a string of little people in tow, then buy a selection of new fruit and vegetables, meat and other food items and set up shop at home. Your children will love the idea of going shopping at home and you can make it a really interactive experience and something the whole family can do together without the stress of parking, trolleys, sweet displays and check-out meltdowns.
By integrating vegetables, meat and other food groups into single dishes, you can ensure that they are flavourful and in some cases, not even noticed. You could use a fine grater and add courgettes and carrots to Bolognese sauce, bake mini egg frittatas in muffin tins full of cheese and sliced mushrooms, the possibilities are endless. In the long run, a couple of week spent working hard at planning for and implementing the changes, means that in the near future, you can enjoy meals out and even better, meals out with friends and family who will marvel at your amazing little eaters!
School dinners are another issue and many parents express their anxiety at the thought of their child refusing the food on offer and going hungry for the day, unable to concentrate properly and finally, irritable and tired at home time. Another reason to address the issue as soon as possible.
When deciding on your table ‘rules’ the idea is that family meal times become a cherished event, time for relaxed conversations that are not interrupted by distractions such as television or mobile phones. The focus is on the meal and on the time spent together eating and enjoying the food that has been prepared. If this is something new to your family, the impact is huge. Children will come to crave this time and the benefit is that they learn by your example. If you’re all eating and follow the same ‘rules’ you’ve set for your children, then they will soon come to adopt them as their own habits.
It isn’t about how much of the new food your child tries, it is about their willingness to try it in the first place. Start small and build on their success without expecting them to tuck into and finish an entirely new meal. You may choose to start with ‘just one bite’ and move on from there. This quickly becomes two, three and so on when your child realises that there isn’t anything else to fill the gap. Keep it fresh and inspiring, not easy to do all the time but certainly with some planning and even making ‘freeze ahead’ meals for those days when you’re pressed for time, will keep things on track and give you all the best possible chance of making positive changes for the long term.
Free Meal Planner
We also have a free meal planner PDF document that will help you plan all your daily meals for a whole week.
However carefully researched the material in this information guide might be, it is not possible to guarantee its accuracy or completeness. The author and distributor therefore accept no liability for any inaccuracies or any loss or damage arising from the use of or reliance on details obtained from this information guide. Please ensure that you check the current government guidelines and requirements relating to the information shared within this guide.
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