As an adult cooking for adults, it is rare that you will come across someone who simply refuses to eat what you cook. Attentive cooks will investigate any no-go foods for their guests and will then aim to prepare something that will please the taste buds. With children, however, they could love your lasagne one day and hurl it to the floor the next. So how can you conquer these situations? Let’s be clear though, fussy eaters are not those with dietary requirements. Too often this is confused and vegetarians, vegans, celiacs, those with a food intolerance etc. are seen as troublesome guests that are simply being too picky.
Emotions at the dinner table can get fraught, especially if your child thinks that they are being forced to eat something they have deemed not nice enough to eat. It’s all about playing the long game…
The NHS gives the advice of not worrying too much about what your child eats in a day, or how much they consume each mealtime, but more on what they eat over the period of a week. Are they eating something from the four main food groups - milk and dairy products, starchy foods, fruit and vegetables and protein? If the answer is yes, and they are also active and still gaining weight, then there’s no need to worry.
Eating together as a family is also important, along with all eating the same meal (even if there are a few variations here and there). Seeing you eating your food and enjoying it is encouragement for your little one to like mealtimes.
If your child refuses to eat, making a fuss about this will just exacerbate the situation. Simply take the food away without comment and try not to get too frustrated. No drama should lead to a life of no fuss! Also, children may be adamant that they hate a certain type of food but a month later will love it. It’s all about biding your time and re-introducing meals to keep testing the waters.
Portion size is another factor. This guide from Nutrition gives a detailed view of what foods your child needs to develop well as well as a guide to how much food you should be giving them. It also gives some helpful tips too:
Encourage new foods when your child is with friends. They are much more likely to try something new if their friends are doing it too.
Involve your little one in meal prep – where it is safe to do so – so they can feel part of making the food they are about to eat. Feeling involved is a great way to increase interest levels in the meal.
Some children are quite slow eaters so don’t take this as a sign of dislike in the food you have prepared. Allow plenty of time for eating and be sure not to hurry them.
Your child has very little control in their lives so when it comes to what they will put in their mouths, they feel they can push the boundaries a little. This also means that you may have to ignore some bad behaviour in order to get to the end goal of finishing a meal or trying something unknown. Be kind to yourself by planning what meals to have ahead of time so you can pre-empt any fussy behaviour.
You can make almost anything more interesting when you make a party out of it! Invite your child’s friends over for a tasting party. Surrounded by friends and the excitement of the activity, you are sure to introduce several new foods (or forgotten favourites) in a positive and welcoming environment. You can make little blindfolds to make a game out of the tasting party and to help teach the children about how strong their senses are when one is taken away.
For this type of party, you need a little more space than usual – as with most parties at home – so be sure to clear a big space around your dining room for the children to get at the food. If you have bi-fold doors, you can even open up the living room and dining room or even the kitchen and garden if the weather is nice. Placing food at different levels and on different surfaces will also increase the chances of more foods being tried.
You can also theme your day with a colour so that all the food is red, green or even a representation of the rainbow. St Patrick’s Day is a great excuse for offering up some greens! You can get really inventive too with green coloured smoothies and sweeties as well as a selection of fruit and veg to nibble on.
Post in collaboration with VuFold