Have you ever heard this from your fussy eating munchkins?
‘l hate vegetables’
‘yucky I’m not eating that’
’not broccoli, l hate broccoli’
’green stuff, disgusting’
‘beans make you sick’
’NO’ then they 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 l 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 l 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 l have had numerous meal refusals, food thrown on the floor and l have heard about ‘yucky broccoli’ more than I’ve eaten it in my life. But l still continue to put it on my children’s plates in 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 l have used in my practice as a child and family health nurse and also what l 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 l 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.
Me: “You know, if you eat your carrots you will grow big and strong?’
4 year old child: ‘Really? Ok I’ll try it’ (a win)
Next day – Me: ‘Oh my goodness, did you grow last night?’
Child (big smile on his face): ‘Yes l did and it’s because l ate my carrots last night’ (win, win, win!)
Ok that may sound pretty easy but l can guarantee it works more times than not but you do have to pick the times where you encourage trying new foods and serving up food you know they dislike.
- Try new foods or foods they are fussy with when they are alert, happy and receptive to you (although we know this can change quickly). They are less likely to eat these foods when they are tired, unwell or teething etc.
- Take them shopping and let them choose a type of food they would like to eat. Depending on their age, limit their choices e.g. would you like some broccoli or peas tonight? They love independence!
- Chopping up vegetables and adding them to a pasta sauce or a rice dish is also a winner. Kids usually love pasta and rice dishes (not all children) so you can add vegetables if you feel they need some extra.
- Let your child guide what they eat, but don’t give them other foods that they want if they refuse what they have already have been served up. They will know that they can do this again and it will lead to further food refusal until they get what they want.
- Its really important to make mealtime relaxing, so making your child eat more than what they want to can be disastrous and lead to bad eating habits. Be sure to tell them they are not getting anything else until later e.g. snack time or if it is dinner, not until breakfast.
Your child will eventually eat a variety of foods and will try different foods as they get older. Don’t give up. They never give up on you!