By Fiona Chapman
Have you ever heard this from your fussy eating munchkins?
‘I hate vegetables!’
‘Yucky I’m not eating that!’
‘Not broccoli, I hate broccoli.’
‘Green stuff, disgusting!’
‘Beans make you sick.’
‘NO!’ (then the crying begins…)
Fussy eating can drive a parent crazy. Have you ever seen your child tip their food on the floor? Throw food at their sibling? Just start crying when you put food in front of them?
Well read on. I aim to inspire you to keep going, keep serving up nutritious foods. Don’t give up! You can do it! Breathe (my favorite saying to myself).
Every single parent has struggles at mealtime with their children no matter what age, location and background. Because little kids like to exert their independence, this can be a battleground and prepared to defend yourself.
It can really mess with your mind and you end up thinking ‘where did I go wrong?’
Well you didn’t go wrong anywhere. All kids are different but almost always at one time or another have battles at mealtime. Snacks, not a problem as long as they like it or they decide what it is. Vegetables and night time meals not so much.
Firstly, I am going to explain why and then I will get to some strategies to help.
Age and Development
Usually problems can begin once the child is over 1 year of age. This is because they are learning how to exert their independence in the world. They realise that they can say no and it can have an impact on what, when and how they eat.
Once they are 2 and 3 their independence grows and becomes stronger. They want to decide what they want to eat. If not, it can cause a tantrum and then this may get them what they want so they can continue this control and behavior and on goes the fussy eating.
It also depends on temperament and personality and this can vary from child to child. Some are more strong-willed and others are more easy going.
With my kids I have had numerous meal refusals, food thrown on the floor and I have heard about ‘yucky broccoli’ more than I’ve eaten it in my life. But I still continue to put it on my children’s plates in the hope they will eat it someday. In saying that, they are eating it in some meals – they just don’t know it! I really have a satisfied look on my face when that happens and feel a sense of achievement.
Strategies to help your little ones with fussy eating
Below are some strategies that are well known and I have used in my practice as a child and family health nurse and also what I have personally have found worked for me and my children. All children are beautifully different and what works for one child may not work for another.
From when they start solids, let them play with their food (breathe through the mess), give them a spoon and encourage their independence.
Let them see you eating the same or similar foods. They will be more likely to try and eat them. In saying that, if you don’t like many vegetables, make sure you introduce them into your child’s diet. I don’t like peanut butter, but I gave this to my children and they love it!
Involve them in the preparation of foods. This may not seem like a child-friendly activity but kids love becoming involved in the food they are making and are more likely to eat it! When my eldest was 3 years old, he loved to help make his own pizza with capsicum, ham, olives, spinach, pineapple and cheese!
Try and sit down and eat together. Role modelling healthy eating and also making it a happy social occasion, can relax the child so they feel happy to try and explore…
Make it fun. Try making foods into different shapes and sizes so they look appealing. Have a picnic outside or in a tent under the dining table.
Do not encourage fussy eating by giving it your attention. Young children like attention and if they are getting it (positive or negative), they are going to keep doing it for sure!
Do not worry if they don’t try a certain food, offer it to them another time.
Offer foods they like with foods they either haven’t tried or have disliked in the past. It’s amazing, one day they will surprise you and just eat it. Don’t give up.