Food rejected for what feels like the 500th time – sound familiar? If so, read on to find out some helpful tips to encourage your child to eat.
Cooking: love it or hate it, we all need to do it at some point to survive. If you’re anything like me, you dream of the time where you place down the plates on the table to squeals of delight from everyone around you… but in reality, this rarely happens.
Of course, we all have different tastes and preferences, and that’s normal. There are such a wide range of textures and flavours out there, that there are bound to be some we absolutely adore and some that make us want to heave just thinking about them. But when eating becomes a problem and your children are regularly refusing your meals, what’s a parent supposed to do?
Healthy eating is an area I am particularly passionate about for children. In what feels like a previous life now, I was the Manager of a childcare setting. As part of that role, I was responsible for planning the daily menu for the children and sourcing the ingredients. Trust me, trying to keep 30 children happy and well fed was no mean feat! But I must admit that I adored the challenge of encouraging children to try new things, and eat a healthy variety of delicious fresh ingredients.
So what did I learn from my experience? I learned that children are very picky eaters, that’s what! But, I also gained some inside knowledge and training of how to approach children’s eating habits, that I hope sharing with you today will support you with your own children.
So, how do I get my child to eat?
Sadly for us parents, fussy eating is a biological instinct in our children. It stems back to the days of children roaming free without parents – it was natures way of protecting them from eating that tasty looking poisonous berry. There are also some medical conditions which may affect how your child eats, in which case you may need some more tailored advice from your medical professional for your individual situation. In any case, changing your child’s eating habits will probably take time and effort of your part, but with the following tips you should be able to start encouraging your child to start make better food choices:
Start young! I’m incredibly sorry if this first piece of advice is reaching you too late – and fear not, there are way more tips for you to try below. But the younger your child is, the more chance you will have of creating positive eating habits for life. Even though very young children will often refuse food too, by familiarising your children with a wide range of different food types when they are small, they will be more likely to continue to eat this range of ingredients as they grow.
Introduce a wide range of food. The more varied range of colours, textures and flavours a child comes across, the more likely they are to find something they really love (or at least don’t hate – small victories!). If your child doesn’t like something, try another item with a different taste at the next meal.
Keep persevering. As important as it is to provide a wide range of foods, it is also important to keep persevering with the ones that your child has only tried once or twice (or even the ones they regularly refuse based on appearance or some other dubious reason!). Consider introducing the previously offered and refused food with something the child loves to eat, to limit the negative feelings involved with that particular item when their plate arrives.
Don’t make a fuss. It can be really tempting to point out when your child hasn’t eaten something and try to force them or bribe them into eating it. But this isn’t helpful for your child’s eating as it gives power to their negative choice and lets them know it is bothering you, as well as potentially escalating the situation into an argument or a guilt trip about how long you have been preparing the food. In my opinion, it is best to say nothing (or very little) about your child’s response to the food – if you must ask then something simple like ‘oh, you’ve had enough to eat already?’ should do it. This may feel like a defeat or giving in to your child, but I promise you that in the long run it is much better for your child that they do not feel forced to eat – children often feel powerless in their life and will cling on to any bit of power they can get. Food is often a great example of how children try to exert power and control in their lives.
Don’t offer alternatives. This can often feel very hard for parents: we worry about our children starving or becoming malnourished. But by offering alternatives, you are inadvertently encouraging your child to be a picky eater – they learn they do not need to eat what is offered because if they wait or fuss you will eventually offer them something else. Remember, children will not starve themselves – they will eventually get hungry enough to choose to eat.
Check your attitude. If you expect your children to eat everything presented to them, but then you make a fuss when someone tries to offer you a carrot yourself, you will be contributing to your child’s fussy eating. Children are experts at following your example rather than your words, and they will sense if you have unhealthy eating habits. Consider the influences your child has around them, and if their attitudes towards food can be improved too.
Involve them in meal preparation. Most children absolutely love helping you to prepare meals, and it makes them feel grown up and independent to support you. But, it also has the added benefit of meaning your child will be much more likely to eat it- the finished dish is their proud creation after all. I love these child friendly kitchen knives with protective gloves, so your child can really get involved without fear of getting hurt.
Involve them in growing food. If you are able, growing your own fruit and vegetables is fantastic encouragement for children to want to eat them too. The growing process teaches them about where food comes from, as well as the responsibility of looking after them. Much like meal preparation, children will feel proud and intrigued that they have grown their own food, and much more likely to want to try them. You can buy a range of seeds here.
Educate them about food. The more children know and understand about the way food affects their body, the more likely they will be to make sensible choices when it comes to eating. For younger children, I find it works well to compare food to certain things they enjoy, like fuel going into a car, or electricity to power their TV. It works equally well for poor food choices too, for example, looking at solidified fat and imagining it inside them.
Think about presentation. Who doesn’t like food which looks well presented?! Making food into a smiley face or heart shape can do wonders for how children perceive their meal. A favourite tip of mine when serving rice: get an appropriate portion sized container and put the cooked rice into it, and pat it down. Leave it for a few minutes, and then turn it out onto their plate (like a sandcastle!). The more interesting you can get the shape, the more appealing it will seem to your child. You can also buy some very child friendly plates, which separate foods, and some interesting serving trays. (Some of my favourites are featured below – click the pictures to find them on sale, or find them here https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/search/ref=as_li_qf_sp_sr_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=parentpop-21&keywords=childs plate&index=aps&camp=1634&creative=6738&linkCode=ur2&linkId=67f47c34daa33f8bcf24c0924655fa58)
Watch out for sneaky advertising. Depending on the country you live in, you will have more or less control over this, so it may not be something you can do much about. But advertising really seems to get to children – and the ads never seem to be about fruit! Think about the toy in a Happy Meal, and how much power that one little toy has over children’s desire to eat McDonalds. Where you can, try to limit your children’s access to these advertisements.
Ok, there you have it – I hope this helps you on your journey towards successfully getting your fussy child to eat a wide range of foods and stop being such a picky eater. Let me know how you get on in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you.
Love, Heather x
*While your here, please consider liking my posts, as well as sharing them on your social media pages. You might also want to click on a few of the ads that appear: this will support my blog to grow, and hopefully allow me to help a wider range of parents. This blog contains affiliate links, but I only ever link to products I really believe in. Thank you so much x *
Parent Pop sister group – sharing tips – https://www.facebook.com/groups/278930846615160/about