Coping with a fussy eating can be very frustrating and stressful but there are lots we as parents can do to help our children eat a healthy diet. Often it can be difficult to know how best to support a fussy eater, but here are some expert tips for parents of fussy eaters.
1. Too much focus on food
We may think that the food is the most important part of mealtimes; perhaps we should have a wider focus may help.
Try: Focus more on fostering positive mealtimes. After all eating should be enjoyable. One simple way of doing this is to lighten the atmosphere at meals by chatting, being silly, telling jokes, or labelling a food with cool names like ‘x-ray vision carrots’. Even small, simple changes like relabeling food can positively change children’s view of the food. And as children relax more, they are more likely to eat a more varied diet.
2. “Just two bites of food please”
Often we hear various tips for coping with a fussy eater including ensuring our child eats 2 bites of a food before they can leave the table. However some children are particularly sensitive to pressure like this; and it may actually reduce their appetite or create negative feelings towards certain foods such a vegetables or even meals in general, such as dinner.
Try: If children eat very little or no food at a mealtime, take away the food after a reasonable time, say 15 minutes. If they come back shortly afterwards hungry, reoffer some of the same food. If we offer an alternative food, children can come to expect this. Therefore, they are be less encouraged to eat their meal if they know that they will get a preferred food such as toast shortly afterwards.
3. Asking ‘What would you like to eat?’
While most children love to have more control, children who are given too many food choices often do not choose healthy options. It is better if children are given some guidance by adults, and are still given some freedom.
Try: Choices are a great way to give children control; for example, let children pick one of two foods. This ensures they are not overwhelmed by too much choice. This works best if we always ensure there are at least one or two “reasonable” foods served at every snack and meal time. The reasonable food means that it is usually eaten, for example, a small portion of fruit, bread or pasta. This means when children come to the table they will always see a ‘safe or familiar food’.
4. Keeping it too clean
Children really benefit from exploring food, whether it’s touching, licking, or smelling foods. If children do not want to touch a food, for example, then there are unlikely to want to put it in their mouth and eat it. Playing with food really helps children become more familiar with the smell, texture and taste of new foods or foods that they are unfamiliar with.
Try: Encourage children to play with food in a fun way, such as squashing peas. For some children, this happens best away from the table so there is no expectation of eating, for example, when food is being prepared.
5. Taking foods off the menu
If a food is not eaten a number of times by children, we are often discouraged from repeatedly serving it. Yet children may need to be offered a food 10 or 15 times before they will actually eat it; sometimes more. However, many of us stop offering the food after 4 or 5 times and instead offer a food that has a greater chance of being eaten.
Try: Young children’s taste buds are still developing and they are still exploring; for example, they may not know what a ‘new food’ is like. Therefore, it is important to repeatedly serve the same foods so they can become more comfortable with them.
Even if children say ‘yuck’ to a food; it does not mean that they will not eat that exact food at another time. A food may not be eaten for lots of reasons including not being hungry or wanting to play at that time.
These are some general tips for coping with a fussy eater, but fussy eating does vary greatly with individuals; and it maybe really helpful to understand a little about the psychology of fussy eaters.
This article first appeared on www.mykidstime.com and photo courtesy of mykidstime.com