Meal times with your little one can be so unpredictable. One day you may experience happy tummies and empty plates, the other, a messy food tantrum. You never know which one you’re going to get! If you are reading this while nodding your head or rolling your eyes – we hear you! Keep reading as we share our top 8 tips on how to make meal times more enjoyable with your fussy eaters and to help them develop lifelong healthy eating habits.
TOP 8 TIPS FOR YOUR FUSSY EATERS
- Let them copy you – Your child is more likely to try or eat everything on the plate if you do. It is far more effective than simply saying “eat everything on your plate.” If they see you eat the same foods, see how you eat it and that you are actually enjoying it – the food becomes so much more appealing and they will most likely copy you. If you dislike any particular food, try not to express this – your little one will pick up on it!
- Create a positive environment – It is important that mealtimes are associated with positive feelings for your child. Eating together as a family and offering the same foods can help with this. Avoid any distractions such as the TV, games or toys. This ensures that when your child is eating they are focusing on eating the food such as the sight, smell, taste and texture of the food.
- Share the responsibility – It is your responsibility to decide what, when and how much food to give your child. However let them decide how much to eat or whether they want to eat. Offer food regularly, every 2-3 hours or 5-6 times a day. A healthy child will never starve itself, so try not to stress if they don’t eat anything at one time – just offer something else the next time they eat.
- Set mealtimes – Try to keep eating times consistent so your child knows when they may eat. Take the plate away after 20-30 minutes for meals and 10-20 minutes for snacks. This will teach them that there is an end to the meal (and so you are not waiting hours for your child to finish!)
- Get creative and make it fun – Children tend to get bored easily, so be creative in the way that you prepare or serve food. For example, make fruit skewers or arrange food in the shape of a flower – something that might engage your fussy eater into trying a new food. If your child struggles to eat vegetables, try sneaking it into meals such as when making burger patties or finely diced into your pasta sauce. Without an obvious change this will introduce the vegetable into your child’s diet.
- Offer a variety of different foods – The more variety (taste, colour, texture) you introduce earlier in life, the more likely they are to accept new foods. You may have to offer a new food up to 10 times before your child accepts the food so don’t give up!
- Get them involved – Involve your fussy eater in planning, shopping and even cooking meals! When meal planning, ask them to pick what they want for dinner. Let them make decisions when you take them shopping like choosing what colour capsicum to buy. This may also encourage them to try a new food, especially if they have picked it themselves! Get them involved in preparing and cooking by asking them to chop something up (with a butter knife) or mash the potatoes. This adds enjoyment to the meal and they are more likely to eat when they are involved.
- Remember that your response matters – When your fussy eater rejects a food you may feel tempted to give them their favourite food, bribe or even force-feed them. While effective in the short term, it will teach your child that the food you used as a bribe (perhaps dessert) is much more desirable. They may also develop a strong dislike to the other food (most likely the vegetable that you were forcing them to have). Instead avoid showing your frustration, remove the uneaten food and reintroduce again another time. Praise good behaviour such as trying new foods or finishing a meal. You can even use non-food rewards such as playing games or stickers.
The best thing to do is to offer your child a variety of different foods while creating a positive environment – keep the rest up to them. Every child is different and if you are worried about your child’s eating habits or simply would like more individualised advice, get in contact with one of our Accredited Practising Dietitians. You can book into one of our nearest clinics or contact us for online consults – 0432 194 344 .