Many parents react to their child’s fussy eating behaviour with panic, and will often deal with this dilemma in one of two ways: they either accept that their child is a fussy eater and plan meals around them; or demand that they sit at the table until they finish every last bite of their meal.
These two strategies are not ideal, as they can lead to a child forming unhealthy eating habits and a long-lasting negative relationship with food.
But, dinnertime doesn’t have to end in tears – there are positive ways to help your child expand their palate and enjoy their meals.
Accredited practising dietitian Vanessa Schuldt and Guardian Childcare & Education Rouse Hill North Chef Kate Stephens have teamed up to provide five helpful tips for dealing with your fussy eater.
“If your child isn’t eating a particular food, instead of forcing them to eat it or avoiding using it altogether, just repeatedly offer it without pressuring them to eat it,” advises Vanessa. You can also try engaging all your child’s senses to get them interested in new ingredients. “When initially introducing your child to a food, invite them to touch and hold the food themselves, as many children often avoid foods they are unfamiliar with. Encourage your child to explore through smell, taste and touch,” suggests Kate. In most cases, after a proper introduction and then repeat exposure, your child will eventually begin to accept the food.
Small amounts of a new food can be less overwhelming for your child. Likewise, serving it alongside foods they enjoy may be helpful. For example, if you know that your child loves pasta, provide them with a bowl of pasta and veggies. This positive association can help your child’s acceptance of the vegetables.
Set a Good Example
Enjoying a range of healthy foods yourself can encourage your child to copy, as they look to you for guidance. It’s important to promote the joy of food and encourage conversations around the table while eating. If you make mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable while showing your child that you are happily eating the nutritious food provided, they will be more likely join in and look forward to meals.
Get Your Child Involved in the Process
“This can even start with you and your child growing a veggie patch together. Once the plants are ready, your child will be excited to taste what they have grown. Cherry tomatoes, snow peas and strawberries are a good start,” says Kate. No room for a veggie patch? Hit the kitchen. Children who are actively involved in preparing food are more likely to try that food. Organise an experimental cooking experience, where your child can be inventive in the kitchen with ingredients you provide. Get them stirring, spreading and pouring!
Mix It Up
Try changing the way that you prepare the food. For instance, your child may not like raw carrots, so instead try cooked carrots – put it in a stir-fry, roast them with honey or add grated carrot to a Bolognese sauce. Just like adults, your child will have certain preferences with their foods, so if you mix things up, you might find a variation that they like!
At the end of the day, remember that your child will eat what they need. “It’s important to understand that most children who are picky will still eat enough food to grow and develop properly,” says Vanessa. “If your child is losing weight or feeling tired and lethargic, parents should consult their GP. If any nutritional deficiencies are identified, an accredited practising dietitian can help to correct the situation. But if this isn’t the case for your child, they are more than likely doing fine and will eat if they are hungry.”
Want more tips for winning over even the fussiest of eaters? Head to Guardian Childcare & Education for the Guardian team’s expert nutrition advice. Take advantage of free childcare and discover the Guardian difference, book a tour with your local centre! Limited spaces available.