Feeding our children can sometimes be a tricky and frustrating task. We want them to eat enough, but not too much. We worry about whether they are eating enough vegetables or is that too much cheese? And then there is also the minefield of allergies and intolerances to cater for – gluten free, dairy free, vegan, soy free, preservative free…. the list goes on. On top of all of this, we then prepare a healthy and balanced dinner that gets rejected by a fussy eater and thrown on the floor amidst tears and tantrums (sometimes theirs, sometimes ours).
We all want children who will eat the food that we give them. Through my work and my own motherhood journey, I have come up with some tips and tricks that will hopefully help in your home.
Sometimes children need to be offered a new food many times (and sometimes more) before they will even try it. It is normal for children to try to exert their independence and shy away from new foods. It is a survival instinct. Sometimes you need to have the food on their plate many times over before they will even put it in their mouth. But if it is something that you would really like them to eat, keep trying.
As children get older their tastes change. Some foods that they refused to eat as a younger child may suddenly be eaten when you least expect it. My 11-year-old has recently discovered that she LOVES peanut butter – after a decade of rejecting it and declaring it “gross”. I do not know what changed for her, but something did, and I am grateful as we now have a wider variety of sandwich toppings to choose from.
Some children do have medical or oral sensory issues that make them reject certain textures and tastes of food. If mealtimes are a huge battle, and you suspect that your child is refusing food more than is “typical” for their age, do not be afraid to ask a health professional for help and advice. Sometimes there is more going on than we realise. Your GP, Paediatrician, Dietitian or Occupational Therapist may be able to help and support you.
Make food fun
Some children accept foods better when they are involved in the cooking process, can touch it with their hands or are given an opportunity to play with it. While we may want to teach our children to use a knife and fork and not make a mess as quickly as possible, babies and toddlers need to explore food with their hands. This is an important part of development.
I believe that bribery to help overcome stubbornness and fear over something new is OK. If I know a particular food is likely to be rejected, I will serve up a small portion and bribe my kids with dessert, or playtime, or something else. This can encourage a fussy eater to at least get through it and prove to themselves that the food isn’t as bad as they expected.
Pick your battles/days
If you are in a difficult headspace, or it has been an exhausting day for all, it is OK to have a dinner that you know will be easily accepted. This may mean having McDonald’s, cereal, or a jam sandwich for a night, to give you and your family a break from the hard work of parenting and trying new foods. My children once declared the two-minute noodles I made for dinner the best dinner I had ever made. And for that day, that was the win we all needed.
So, hang in there fellow mothers, as we nourish the next generation. One day our precious children will have children of their own – and it will be their turn to fight these battles with their own fussy eater.