How to tackle fussy food habits
Fussy eating among young children is very common, but ending bad food habits in their tracks can be tiring and difficult. As you will be well aware, trying to make your child eat foods they don’t like is near to impossible. So we’ve put together some useful foodie tips which will help you ease the stress levels of dinnertime and keep your child on the correct path to healthy eating.
- Be a patient parent Patience is certainly a virtue when it comes to teaching your little ones good food habits. Fussing around your child at the dinner table will only make their habits worse as it draws attention to them. They are learning a new behaviour which can take time, especially if they have already slipped into a fussy food rut. So why not set a patient parent example and eat your own food quietly? This will help your child realise they will not receive any attention for complaining and that it’s not only them at the dinner table. Your child will eventually get bored of seeking attention and start to eat the food they are given, which is exactly what you are aiming for. Praise the positive, don’t just point out what they’re doing wrong.
- Explore new foods with your child Exploration is a must when it comes to food and will further help your children recognise different kinds of food and flavours. It’s the same strategy with all areas of children’s lives, for example, crawling is a way of exploring, so apply this strategy to their food. If all you feed them is salty or fried foods then this is what your child will always expect. Children become familiar with food repetition making it easy to dismiss foods they are unfamiliar with, so incorporate variety from an early age. Try introducing certain phrases which can help distinguish between being fussy and disliking certain food types. Try swapping ‘yuck’ with ‘no thank you’ – food habits and manners can go hand in hand so watch out for the food etiquette. For very small ones, try involving a favourite doll or toy in the meal. Sit the toy at the table and ‘feed’ them some of the problem food. If the toy says ‘yum’ and rubs it’s tummy, your child may follow suit.
- Cook with your child Getting your children involved in cookery is a great way to introduce a new insight into food. At a young age children love to be involved and will happily help out in the kitchen. If they feel they have contributed to the meal they will take great pride serving the meal and also eating what they have helped cook. This is a fantastic way to help them interact with ingredients, and through being involved their uncertainties of certain foods will diminish. You can also try taste tests away from meal times so your child feels no added pressure to clear his or her plate at the dinner table. For example, you might find they prefer raw carrots to cooked carrots – but try not to make too many changes to suit their tastes – they have to learn they don’t get everything the way they want!
- Don’t bribe your child One of the worst ways to encourage your child to eat food they fuss over is through bribery. Promising them a sweet treat if they finish what is on their plate instills a fixation on being rewarded for eating their meal, which isn’t something you want to promote as eating a balanced diet is a necessity not an achievement. Rewarding your child for eating their meal may also suggest that whatever is on the plate is an unpleasant food, which can only aid your child’s fussy eating habits. If you do choose to reward your child with sweet treats they could also develop a sweet tooth and become reliant on what should be an occasional treat.
- Don’t hide the veg from your child Hiding vegetables or disguising them purposely in sauces will hide the true taste and sight of them, which could suggest to your child that they have a bad taste. While it is important to ensure your child is receiving the right amount of nutrients from their diet, it shouldn’t be done through deceit. Instead, try being creative with their food and use vegetables, pasta and meat to create a smiley face on their plate or simply present the food nicely to make the meal look more appealing as a whole.