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If your child is a fussy eater, meal times can become a daily battle of wills that leave both you and your child feeling stressed and anxious. While it may seem that the only choice is to succumb to your child’s picky tendencies, this is certainly not the case – this is a problem that is worth working through, so don’t give up!
Try these simple tips and see if you can gradually shift your child’s thinking about food, to make meal times feel like a pleasure rather than a chore.
It might seem a little obvious, but consider whether your child is filling up between meals on juice, milk or snacks. Simply increasing the length of time between meals can have a positive impact. Try to keep meals on a reasonably regular schedule and create opportunities to eat with your child as experiencing your positive relationship with food first hand can rub off on them.
Avoid caving in to pressure and making something different for your child, or offering something as a bribe, as this will only create an expectation on their part that you are willing to indulge in this behaviour.
You want to encourage your child to drop fussy eating habits without creating a negative association with meal times. This is important as a negative association can prime your child to feel stressed before they even get to the table, making matters worse. Try adding one new thing to a plate of familiar food types so as not to overwhelm them. Focus on enjoying each other’s company at meal times to create a positive association with eating, and remember that you may need to offer a new food to your child many times before they are open to accepting it. Do not give up trying or rule something out all together based on a few rejections; bearing in mind that their tastes will change over time and may be subject to change from one day to the next!
Refusing to eat certain foods can be a manifestation of a child beginning to test the boundaries of control within their relationship with their parents and carers. It is not practical to do so all the time, but offering occasional ‘treat meals’ in which the child has some say over what they eat can bring them around in terms of what’s considered off limits.
Bringing into play how beautiful and colourful food is can be a great help, adding some fun to the dinner table, and creating positive association with not only meal times but also a wide diversity of foods. Have a go at making healthy pizza – there are few things kids love more than pizza! Pre-prepare a rainbow of healthy pizza toppings such as diced vegetables, pineapple chunks, beans, meats and different cheeses and get your kids to build their own pizzas, encouraging them to create patterns, animals, or alien space ships using all of the different colours and textures! This model also works well with wraps or kebab skewers.
Aside from offering enjoyment, food is essential fuel for our bodies and children can find this fascinating to learn about. Try picking a food type and an associated benefit to teach your child about each week. Examples to try include:
Every part of our bodies requires special nutrients, which can be found in certain foods, so eating many different things makes us more healthy and energetic. This tactic can link a sense of achievement to food and over time, may help to alter your child’s perception.
The addictive nature of sugar can leave your children stamping their feet for sweets, chocolate and biscuits and a sweet tooth can mean that they are frequently not interested in the nutritious options that are placed on the table in front of them.
Avoid creating this sweet tooth by offering healthy alternative treats wherever possible. Try combining different types of fruit in a blender and freezing the result in ice-lolly moulds – no additional sugar required. You can make beautiful ice-lollies by adding whole chunks into the mix and your kids can feel the same enthusiasm about these healthy treats as they would from their sugar-laden equivalents. You can also add cow’s milk or almond milk for an added nutrient boost. Save sugar-based products for truly special occasions to eliminate this negative feedback loop and give your child the best possible start in terms of their nutrition.
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