End the food fight - How to work with picky eaters
Would you describe your child as a fussy eater? Are mealtimes stressful? Do you worry that your child isn’t getting enough nutritionally? Firstly, it’s important to remember that children are naturally picky eaters – some more so than others. Picky eating can happen for many reasons including which may include the level of pressure around eating a certain way. The pressure we put on ourselves and on them to eat ‘well’ comes from a place of love, and concern about their wellbeing, but it may be the best option for everyone involved to ‘take a load off and end the food fight.
So, what is ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ eating? As you may know, it’s natural for children to be picky. They may enjoy a food one day and think it’s disgusting the next. The amounts they eat can also vary from day to day and week to week. It’s also very common for children to perhaps taste a new food but take it back out. Likewise, it’s natural for them to refuse to try it in the first place.
However, if mealtimes have become a struggle for everyone involved and include crying at the table, stress over trying new foods and/or only eating their very favourite foods without anxiety. This can be concerning and stressful for everyone involved.
Ultimately, we can’t and shouldn’t force our children to eat if they don’t want to. We wouldn’t want someone to force us to eat our least favourite foods and we all know how far ‘finishing our plates’ got us. But we can make mealtimes more enjoyable and expose our children to new foods without pressure. Here are some strategies to get you started towards peace at the dinner table and an increase in nutritional variety.
If it’s vegetables and/or fruit that your child avoids the best thing you can do is allow them to see you enjoying your own vegetables and fruit. Eventually, if you eat them, they will too. Don’t make it a theatrical production, however. Children are well aware of our ploys.
Maybe your child likes fruit but not veggies? That’s ok, relax they both have nutrients. Let them enjoy their favourite fruits and try out some new ones. Keep exposing them to vegetables on their plate and yours and eventually, they may become curious.
Jazz things up with fats, salt, herbs, spices etc. Broccoli almost always tastes better with cheese sauce! You can also jazz things up creatively, cutting food into fun shapes, providing variety, dips, finger foods etc. But don’t pressure yourself, if you don’t have time, just do what you can.
Avoid the food fights. I can’t stress this enough. Children are observant, they see you pressuring and putting all this effort into trying to get them to eat something, and are likely thinking "geez if they have to go through all this to get me to eat it, it MUST be bad!"
Pressure almost always backfires and as you may have experienced, it creates stress for everyone involved. Keep in mind that pressure can also be ‘positive’ praising, clapping, giving stickers, rewarding etc.
Have regular meals and snacks throughout the day so that they are hungry but not starved at dinner time. If they are not hungry, don’t worry. They may have had a bigger lunch. Having regular meal times throughout the day can help with this though. Ultimately, children are skilled intuitive eaters and we don’t want to take this natural ability to listen to their body cues away. Whenever possible meals and snacks should be eaten sitting down at a table or bench with the focus being on the food (this goes for you too parents.)
Ellyn Satter, creator of ‘The Division of Responsibility’ suggests that we don’t ask them what they want to eat but do be considerate of their current likes and dislikes. Make sure to have something they like on their plate and then whatever else you are eating. Ideally, we’re not making special meals just for them but simply being considerate of their likes and dislikes at that time and including some new foods as well.
Hang in there! Children may need to be exposed to a food 10-15 times before even trying it. Be patient. Keep putting it in front of them but don’t pressure them to eat it. Let them touch it, lick it pop it in their mouth only to pop it back out, whatever! The more they are exposed to it and see you eating it the more likely they are to give it a go. Keep mealtimes neutral.
If you’re worried that your child isn’t getting enough nutritionally you could both enjoy some Kids Good Stuff shakes as an option. These tasty little smoothie mixes taste like a milkshake and provide all the nutrients your child needs. Try out different flavours and remember to enjoy them too so that they don’t think anything ‘shady’ is going on. Many kids enjoy the fruity or chocolaty flavours and they can be made into shakes or stirred through yoghurt. Make them into pretty parfaits with sliced fruit. The opportunities are endless.
Ultimately, if you are concerned about your child’s eating habits, reach out to your GP who can put you in the right direction.For some delicious Kids Good Stuff recipes, head over to our recipes page and try some out.
The information provided in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is general advice. It should not, nor is it intended to be, relied on as a substitute for individual medical advice or care. If the contents of this, or any other of the blogs in this series raises any concerns or questions regarding your health, please consult a qualified healthcare practitioner.