By: Tracy Feasey
It’s no coincidence that children become fussy about food at around the same time when they’re clearly able to express their likes and dislikes.
At toddler stage, your child is discovering that they can make choices and flex those little independent muscles – and if green beans are ‘horrible’ today, no amount of cajoling will persuade them otherwise. In fact, engaging in a battle of will is likely to make them even more determined not to eat them.
So take a deep breath, encourage them to eat the remainder of their meal. Try not to make a big issue out of it.
Likewise, it’s very common for children to stick to what seems like a terribly limited range of foods. I know of a child who at 3 would only eat cheese spread sandwiches, banana, grapes, fish fingers and jaffa cakes. His mother found this incredibly trying and frustrating.
She worried herself constantly that he was missing out on vital nutrients and would still be as picky during adulthood. Yet studies show, if your child’s food repertoire seems incredibly small, it’s unlikely that his nutritional needs aren’t being met. This child was perfect height; weight had no health problems and was hitting all the expected milestones
Over the course of a week – which is what matters – he consumed a far wider variety than we originally thought. We later found out at nursery he would eat noodles, pasta and raisins, none of which he would eat at home.
Of course it’s infuriating when your child’s lovingly prepared dinner ends up in the bin. All that shopping and cooking, then seeing it go to waste can be heartbreaking.
Rather than focusing on what your child won’t eat, it makes sense to encourage a positive attitude, towards food and mealtimes. Studies show that children tend to eat more healthily at the table with their family.
While it’s not always possible to eat together, try to at least make family dinners a feature at weekends. Children enjoy this time with their parents, finding it the ideal opportunity to talk about things and of course they get too see you model healthy eating habits.
My Husband works late so often I eat with the children and save my pudding to eat with him, as we both feel it’s an important time for the children. Sometimes, a child ‘goes off’ previously liked foods for no apparent reason. Often, an illness triggers a reluctance to eat certain things- particularly if your child associates them with feeling queasy or unwell. My child refused to eat sausages for a year after getting an unrelated tummy bug, after sneaking off with grandpa for a naughty breakfast!
If your child is adamant about hating a specific food then leave it off his plate for the time being. You can always re-introduce it when they are a little older (children’s tastes change very quickly). In the meantime, it’s just not worth those tears at the table…
You can increase the chances of success by offering it alongside more familiar food; that way, they have the reassurance of some old favourites on the plate too.
Where food is concerned, it pays to adopt a laid-back, casual attitude, rather than making it an emotional issue.
Children are far more likely to be cooperative if they feel consulted and involved. Doing the food shop with little ones is daunting, but maybe going on a smaller shop or visiting the grocers with them and let them make a choice like “which vegetables shall we have with our roast chicken,” or “which apples look the best” allowing them to make small decisions will encourage them to eat what they have chosen.
As for nibbling between meals, active kids do need to keep energy levels up, especially when they come home ravenous from school.
Steer them towards healthy snacks like fresh or dried fruit, yoghurt, cheese and crackers. We have an open fruit bowl policy in our house when the bowl is on the table you can help yourself; I take it away an hour before tea is served. The children don’t have to ask, but they know not to ask for anything else. Forcing a child to clear her plate doesn’t help long-term, as mealtimes become even more fraught. Plus, a good cop/bad cop situation sends confusing messages (Dad’s making me eat this, Mum says I don’t have to…and now they’re arguing…’).
Together with your partner, try to find a way of handling the situation in a calm, measured way, so you appear as a united front. If you’re still tearing your hair out, remember that you probably had food fads of your own and that most of us learn to enjoy a wide range of textures and tastes eventually
I’m a 34 year old Mum of two wonderfully inquisitive children. I work for http://www.vouchercodespro.co.uk writing articles and blogs. My previous Job was as an Early Years Nutritionist based in a Children’s Centre in the UK where I ran courses aimed at pregnant Mums, baby weaning, fussy eaters and healthy cooking on a budget. You can follow me on twitter @VCP-Tracy.