“Mu-um, you know I don’t like peas… URGH, that’s disgusting…” You know the story – your carefully balanced meal is congealing on the plate, and you’re counting on ketchup for at least two of their five-a-day. Here are a few tips to help handle your fussy eater.
1Don’t force it
If family meals are more of a war zone your child is likely to associate food with anxiety and stress. Never try to force them into healthy eating, and don’t spend hours in a stand-off. Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling Reed says, “Keep mealtimes to 20-30 minutes. If they haven’t touched their food by then, remove it without fuss or comment and offer it again if they are hungry later.”
2Ditch the junk
Get rid of sugar and salt-laden processed foods. Not only are they are expensive, they also give the message that an unhealthy snack is an acceptable alternative to a balanced meal. If it’s not there, they can’t eat it, so stock up on fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds to nibble on instead.
3Don’t offer an alternative
Charlotte says, “offering an alternative just teaches your little one that if they refuse your healthy food they can get something they like instead.” You’re not a restaurant and you don’t have the budget –or the staff – to make three different meals every evening. Make it clear that they can choose to eat it or not, but that there won’t be anything else on offer.
4Don’t feel guilty
Many parents worry that if they don’t indulge their picky eater’s demands they won’t eat anything at all. Don’t panic. The odd night without dinner won’t harm them, and if they’re hungry they are more likely to eat what you put in front of them.
5Serve small portions
“Big portions can be overwhelming, and can put toddlers off eating altogether,” says Charlotte. Give them small platefuls that they can manage – it give them the option to ask for more and saves waste too.
6Don’t fill up on drinks
The more calories they drink throughout the day, the less likely they are to eat properly when it comes to dinnertime. Give them juice or milk with their meals, but stick to water in between.
7Get them interested in healthy food
Very young children often need repeated exposure to new foods before they will accept them. Get them interested in what they’re eating by exploring the colour, shape or texture together instead of just the taste.
8Let them do it themselves
Kids love playing with their food, and are more likely to eat something if they feel they’re in control. Give them breadsticks, crackers or steamed or raw veg to dip it into cottage cheese, hummus, or veg purees. They’ll feel more involved and you can leave them to it while you do something more productive.
9Eat well yourself
If you’re a fussy eater or stick to a limited range of foods don’t be surprised if your child follows suit. Show them you eat a varied and balanced diet with plenty of fruit and veg. Be enthusiastic about food and make a big deal about how much you’re saving by not eating calorie-laden ready meals.
10Let them help
They’re more likely to eat something they’ve prepared themselves. Ok, so toddler “help” can be more of a hindrance, but older kids can get involved by finding healthy recipes, chopping, mixing, and setting the table for dinner. They’ll learn valuable life skills – and you’ll get some help in the kitchen.
You can check out a variety of recipes over in our food section; there is something for every member of the family, even the fussiest of eaters!