Lots of families have at least one fussy eater.
Trying to get a fussy eater to eat a nutritious diet can make meal times a very stressful event, and unfortunately it’s a viscous cycle.
As a fussy eater self limits their diet, their gut health goes down hill, and they restrict their food choices even more.
Here are my 11 top tips to help your fussy eater be a bit more adventurous!
Presentation is everything when it comes to kids and food.
This can be a very simple solution to a very big problem.
Invest in a decent spiralizer and spiralize anything and everything!!
Zucchini, beetroot, apples, carrots and cucumber can all be spiralized.
Other presentation ideas include:
- Make a ‘platter’ with lots of different finger food
- Include dips like hummus or babaganoush, and chop up veggies to dip in them
- Make a salad into a smiley face
- Have different bowls and containers for different parts of the meal
- You can even use cookie cutters to cut some fruits or veggies.
When a child is exposed to a new food, they know nothing about it. They don’t know how it tastes, how it will feel in their mouth or what it smells like.
To help them feel comfortable, they need to explore it with their hands before they take the next step of eating.
So give you child permission to play with their food, it’s the first step in eating the food.
Be a Role model
If you turn up your nose at vegetables, or refer to them with negative language, your child will pick up on this.
Don’t say ‘you can’t have dessert until you eat your vegetables’. It makes it sound like vegetables are something to be dreaded and endured, before you get to the good stuff.
The vegetables are the good stuff!
Try to eat together as a family as much as possible. This makes eating a social event and a time when children can talk about their day, as well as encouraging them to eat.
No one likes to eat alone.
They need to sit at the table until everyone is finished, whether they are eating or not. Eating in front of the ipad or TV is not a good idea.
Eating should be a mindful, conscious experience, not a pastime in front of the TV.
Remove addictive foods.
If your child has a very high proportion of gluten and dairy foods in their diet, you can consider them addicted.
Whilst they still have these foods, they will not be interested in other foods.
If this is the case for your child, you can either go cold turkey and remove the gluten and dairy foods and endure a few days of tantrums.
Or you can do it gradually over a few days, and try to wean them off them.
Once these foods are gone, they will be more accepting of new tastes and flavours.
Make healthy foods accessible.
Keep unhealthy food out of the house, or at least inaccessible to children. Instead, keep lots of interesting fruit in the fruit bowl, and chopped vegetables in the fridge, at eye level.
Boiled eggs are another great healthy snack.
In the pantry, have a range of nuts and seeds to nibble on.
Stick to a schedule.
Grazing is bad for your gut health, your teeth and bad for kid’s appetite. There should be at least 3 hours between each meal or snack. A child who sits down to a meal hungry will be more likely to eat the food put down in front of them. Kids (and adults) get confused between boredom and hunger.
Food isn’t a pastime to relieve boredom, and it is not a crutch when you feel sad.
Decide on a meal and snack schedule for the family and write it up on the fridge.
Whenever someone asks for food, you can refer them to the schedule!!
Give tools for expression.
Children can find it difficult to articulate how they feel about a food, and just call it ‘yuck’. Teach them words to describe the texture of the food (crispy, tough, crunchy, slimy, soft), the taste of the food (sweet, salty, spicy, sour, bitter), the smell (smokey, spicy, sweet), the look of the food (looks hard, rough, lumpy).
When they can articulate, they will be able to feel more control over their food.
Look for underlying causes of fussiness.
Zinc deficiency is common in kids, and can reduce someone’s sense of taste, and therefore their appetite. Magnesium deficiency can cause sweet cravings. Run some tests and find out, so you can supplement appropriately.
Don’t give the same foods every day. Give new foods alongside familiar trusted ones. Make each plate a rainbow, and use the colours to teach your children about nutrition. Give the foods names, like broccoli trees or cucumber ribbons. It makes it a fun colours experience, not a white bland one
Use positive reinforcement.
Children will often start off very adventurous eaters, and then when they are about 18 months and develop a sense of self, they will start to reject previously loved food. It is important to push through this stage, and keep giving the same healthy choices. Praise them emphatically for eating their dinner, and give them rewards like stickers or stamps. Remember a child has to try a food 13 times before you can definitely say that they don’t like it. Never use food as a reward, and don’t show them you are upset by this change in preferences. Just finish up the mealtime and move on with the day.
11. Get them involved
It is never too early to get your child involved in food preparation. Young kids can help put cherry tomatoes into bowls, then they can progress to ripping up lettuce or kale. Once your child is about 6, they can use a sharp knife to cut up vegetables under supervision. Going shopping with your child can be good as long as this doesn’t lead to junk ending up in the trolley. Let your child choose a new fruit and vegetable every week