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Top Tips for Parents of Fussy Eaters

Help with fussy eaters

I am the father of 2 young boys age 3 and 4. We have found that following the ‘Positive Parenting Solutions course (https://www.positiveparentingsolutions.com) to be very useful for help with parenting strategies. This program has a whole section on ‘Managing Mealtime Madness’. I have summarised some of the key points below.

Aim to raise a ‘Competent Eater’. That is a child who:

  • Enjoys a variety of foods
  • Learns how to like new foods
  • Eats the right amount of food his or her body needs to grow as nature intended
  •  Knows how to behave at the table so others enjoy having him/her there.

Parents jobs:

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meal times and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Teach kids about food and mealtime behaviour
  • Not let children graze for food or beverages (except water) between meal and snack times •
  • TRUST children to decide how much and whether to eat

Kids will:

  • Eat or not eat
  • Eat the amount they need
  • Learn to eat the food their parents eat • Learn to behave well at the table

Do’s and Don’ts Tips

Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to help you.

Do:

  • let your child get hungry- have regular mealtimes and snack times, and don’t allow free access to snacks or juice (except water). Allow at least 2 hours between each snack and a meal.
  • encourage your child to cook with you and let them do age appropriate jobs to help. Encourage them to smell, taste and touch the food as you prepare it. We batch cook at the weekend when we have more time to do this, and it becomes a fun activity.
  • be the example. Make sure your kids see you eating a well balanced diet. If they see you put 3 spoonfuls of sugar on your Weetabix, they are going to want to do it too! Talk about how delicious vegetables are and how good they make you big and strong, which is of course true.
  • try to eat the same thing as your kids eat. As above, when your kids see you eat broccoli or a bean stew they are much more likely to do it too, and it makes cooking so much easier. My kids don’t like spicy things, so anytime there is a recipe with a chilli in it we just leave that out (e.g. curries or chilli), I love spicy things, so I have a selection of hot sauces to spice my own up at the table!
  • use snacks to support mealtime by making them as nutritious as possible. This way, if your child refuses to eat too much of their breakfast or lunch you know they are getting something healthy at the next scheduled snack time.
  • consider serving the veggies first in the form of crudites (raw carrots, cucumber, celery, tomatoes), perhaps with a healthy dip like hummus. When you are hungry the first food tastes the best!
  • use the blender to make vegetable soups, or blend vegetables into sauces for rice and pasta. You can serve blended soup in cups or with a straw to make it fun/easy to drink.
  • try smoothies as a great way to get extra good things into kids without them knowing. Try adding a cube of frozen spinach (I promise they won’t taste it), a tablespoon of ground flaxseed, a couple tablespoons of oats and a tablespoon of almond or peanut butter to the usual fruit and milk/water mix to make it less sweet and more nutritious.
  • allow your children to have some sweet foods. We call this ‘fun food’ it includes chocolate, sweets etc. Generally we don’t keep this in the house, so there are no fights over having a biscuit before dinner, but we might have it when we go out at the weekend or to a coffee shop, or to grannies!

 

Don’ts

  • Don’t have rules like ‘you must clean your plate’- this interferes with a child’s natural cue to eat until full. Let your child decide what and how much to eat from what is on the table.
  • Don’t keep food in your house if you don’t want your kids to eat it. As my 4 year old says ‘when I see chocolate I want it!’. Your job is to limit when they see it. If you don’t want them to badger you for ice cream every night, don’t keep it in the house.
  • Don’t be emotionally invested in whether your child eats or not. Kids know that you can’t make them eat something, so mealtimes can easily become a power struggle. If they say they don’t like what you have prepared for them keep a poker face, say that is ok, but there will be no more food until the next scheduled meal or snack. They will soon get the message.
  • Don’t provide food as a reward or distraction, this can lead to emotional eating in the future as they may look for food for comfort.
  • Don’t label your kids- for example ‘the picky one’, or say ‘my child will never eat that’ if someone offers them a new food. Instead use phrases like ‘you might like it when you are 4/older’, ‘I didn’t like X when I was little, but now I do’, ’my kids are still learning what they like’. This means they are open to keep trying it, rather than believing that they will never like it.
  • Don’t forget about beans, peas and lentils. These are an easy and affordable way to get lots of protein and fibre into your kids. Tinned lentils work well in pasta sauces, chickpeas are delicious in curries, kidney beans can go in bean stew and fajitas. A tin of any bean or lentil can be blended into a soup to make it more nutritious, filling and thicker.

 

Don’t get Discouraged

For those kids who have been ‘picky’ for a while be patient. Gradually tweak menus by adding one or two healthy changes at a time, rather than taking anything away. Some children don’t like different foods to touch, so consider serving a selection of healthy foods on their plate. For example, lunch could be a few carrot sticks, a couple of baby tomatoes, some berries or sliced apple, a blended soup and wholegrain toast with peanut butter or marmite. Encourage them to try new foods but enable them to still have power and control over what they eat by saying things like:

  • You can’t taste with your eyes, would you like a serving or a taster bite? • Would you like to smell it, lick it or taste it?

Good luck! And remember the aim is to raise a ‘competent eater’ not a perfect eater. It might feel like they go through phases of eating everything in sight and then very little, if you are consistent in serving balanced meals and snacks that the whole family can eat they will get all the nutrition they need and eating times will become enjoyable!

 

 

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