We all have a fairy tale idea of family mealtimes with children: chatting and laughing with everyone happily tucking into their food. But if your child is a fussy eater, this couldn’t be further removed from the stressful reality of mealtimes. Where, instead of enjoying a meal with your family, all the focus is on your child who won’t eat and absolutely nothing is going to persuade them to try their vegetables. Or their meat. Or anything at all really (unless its pudding or yogurt).
It’s normal for little ones to go through phases of liking and disliking things – however frustrating, it’s part of growing up. If something’s not a hit, perseverance and patience are key. Try three, ten, or even twenty times until you succeed. Try again another day. Eventually they’ll crack, and if they don’t, perhaps they’ll never take a liking to that food – and that is okay. For the last six months I have dreaded mealtimes with my little boy (while on the other hand, his older sister never shies away from food) and every spoonful became a battle that I would never win. Though I wanted to throw in the towel and leave him to eat only the foods he likes (cereal, yogurt and fruit) I kept going, trying to get him to eat something new and different at every meal. In the end I was victorious. I can proudly say he now eats whole grains, meat and some veg (it’s something, right?).
How did I get my fussy eater to finally eat?
Children will copy and learn from you, so show them the way. Embrace a variety of foods at mealtimes – once they see you eating something, they’re far more likely to try it. Even mouthful stolen from your plate, if they’re prepared to try something new, is only a good thing. It’s also important to establish a good routine as early as possible. I try to stick to three meals a day, with a snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon – that way, the little ones know where they stand, feel relaxed and have a chance to build up a hunger. It also gives them a chance to look forward to their meals.
Another useful trick that I’ve utilised is getting your fussy eater involved with the cooking. Most children will enjoy cooking and tasks like squeezing fresh orange juice or cracking eggs – both of which are well within the capabilities of a young child. You would be surprised how being involved in the planning and preparation of a meal can stimulate a child’s appetite.
If your child refuses to eat anything other than junk food, don’t worry. They will soon find there’s not much point making a fuss if you don’t react. Avoid empty calorie snacks like chips or cookies and keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand – maybe have a low shelf in the fridge with cut up fresh fruit and other healthy foods. When little ones are hungry, they won’t wait. Hiding veg is a handy way to get them to eat their veg without knowing it. Mixing or blending them into their favourite dishes is a great place to start – over time you can begin to leave them a bit chunkier, until they eventually stop noticing them. Or you can find a way to make their favourite snacks and foods in a healthier way.
Above all, have fun with food and try to think long term. They’ll get there in the end. Don’t beat yourself up if things don’t quite go to plan. If you have the odd battle, don’t stress about it – we’ve all been there.