Many children have periods of fussiness when it comes to food. The odd phase of going off something or a baby that takes a little while to come around to the idea of weaning isn’t usually a cause for concern. Nor should it be a worry if they genuinely don’t like a few things and don’t ever change their minds. There’s a huge difference between a fussy eater and someone that just doesn’t like a particular taste, with vastly different long-term outlooks.
A truly fussy eater that refuses to try new foods and has a giant list of things that they won’t touch can have health issues in later life. They can suffer from vitamin deficiencies, weakness, even malnutrition. They can struggle to gain weight, or perhaps gain too much as the only foods that they do eat are unhealthy and fatty. In some cases, fussy eating can also lead to social issues in adulthood. A fussy eater might have trouble attending social events, become anxious eating around other people, feel ashamed of their own behavior and even develop eating disorders as a result of their unhealthy relationships with food.
If your child is a seriously picky eater, to the point that it’s causing disruption at family meal times or you are concerned about their health, it’s time to tackle the problem head-on. Here’s a look at some of the things that you can do to help.
One of the most important things that you can do, from a very early age, is make meal time about more than the food. Make it a family time, where you all sit down together and enjoy a meal. This is a great way to introduce your children to a range of foods, as they will be eating the same as you. Sit and chat about your day, have fun and enjoy meal times. When the pressure is off the food itself, you might find that they just start to copy the rest of you.
This might not always be possible. You or your partner might work late some days or just want a meal time alone without any stress, once the kids are in bed. There’s nothing wrong with this, just make sure you eat as a family as frequently as you can, even if it means moving your day’s main meal to lunchtime or having big family breakfasts.
That said, your company should be the only distraction from the meal. When it’s time to sit down to eat, turn off the TV and leave all of your devices in another room. Make mealtime a technology-free zone. Even if your kids eat well, this is a good habit to adopt as it’s often the only time of the day that everyone sits together and gives their full attention.
As with all areas of parenting, consistency and clear rules are crucial. Putting devices away is your first rule. Follow it up with things like not leaving the table until everyone is finished and no pudding until plates are clean.
It is however imperative that you stick to your rules. Start giving sweet treats when they haven’t eaten dinner, and they’ll start expecting it and pushing your limits. But, it’s also important that you know when to give up. Don’t shout or get annoyed, just sit patiently and wait. If they become angry or upset, they are very unlikely to eat and even if they do, they’ll have negative memories of that meal. It’s better to give up, deny dessert and try again another day.
Fussy eating is a widespread problem and something that many parents struggle with. So, don’t be alone. Speak to other parents, look for groups online or find a Feeding Therapist to offer further advice and support.
Don’t Give Up
One of the worst things that you can do is give up. After days, weeks or even months and years of mealtime battles it can be tempting to just give them what they like to avoid drama. So what if they eat fish fingers and chips every day, as long as they are eating? Right? Wrong. Giving up just means that they’ll never be more open to new foods and new ideas. Give up, and they could face further problems in later life, you’ll struggle to eat out with them or find foods that they like on holidays, and they may soon develop bowel and stomach problems.
Make it Fun
Meal times should be fun. If you’ve been having trouble for a while, it may seem like it will never end. You might start to dread meal times. This won’t help. Instead, add some fun. Have themed dinner nights when you all dress up or play relevant games. Make a mess, get stuck in and enjoy yourself. Try meals like tacos, where everything gets a little messy, and everyone helps themselves. Throw a picnic on your carpet with all of their soft toys and a picnic matt. Think of things that they enjoy doing and base meals around their interests.
Let Them Help
Kids love to do what adults do. They enjoy playing pretend kitchens and shops. So, why not let them help for real? Even very young children can help to stir or knead dough. As they get older, they can help with chopping and meal planning. Let them do as much as they safely can. Try fun things like pizzas, which are also a great way to introduce new flavors.
Introduce Flavors Slowly
If you know that you are dealing with a fussy eater, don’t offer something exotic or filled with contrasting flavors. Stick to simple family foods. Then, even if they start eating more, introduce new things slowly over time. Don’t overwhelm them or you’ll take steps backwards.
Eat with Your Eyes
We all eat with our eyes, but kids even more so. They like their food to look appealing and fun. Try cutting things into fun shapes or using color to create an exciting plate.