Guardian Childcare & Education

5 Ways to Tackle Fussy Eaters

23rd August 2017

tackling fussy eaters

It doesn’t matter if you’re a chef extraordinaire or an amateur who burns pasta, the common experience is that most children are finicky when it comes to food. Children can take ‘fussy’ to a whole new level – it’s not the right shape, it’s too green or too rough. To add sauce to your food sorrows, you may find they love something one day and throw it on the floor the next.

“From toddlers who insist on only drinking milk all day long, to children who avoid any vegetable in sight, there are some strategies for parents to help their kids get off the picky eating treadmill,” says Vanessa Schuldt, an Accredited Practising Dietitian, who recently addressed this topic at a nutrition night for parents held at Guardian Early Learning’s Caringbah and Camperdown Centres.

To keep your sanity, keep in mind that being particular about food isn’t really about the food at all, it’s about asserting their autonomy. We’ve put together five ways to make mealtimes more amenable.

“It’s important to understand that most children who are picky will still eat enough food to grow and develop properly. Certainly, if a child is losing weight or feeling tired and lethargic, parents need to consult their GP. If any nutritional deficiencies are identified, an Accredited Practising Dietitian can help to correct the situation” Vanessa Schuldt

Eating Environment

One way to make food time more fantastic is to make sure your eating environment is enjoyable and calm. Eat with your children and set a good example by eating and enjoying a range of healthy foods yourself. Prepare yourself for food-armageddon; there’ll be food from your walls to your floors and everywhere in between. The best thing you can do is smile it off so you don’t get bogged down in clean and tidy. Try and keep your meal times to under 20 minutes, that way, they won’t drag on and become a chore. If the food doesn’t get gobbled in this time, remove it and only offer it again at the next meal time.

Mix it Up

Try varying the way that new foods are prepared. Some children prefer raw, cold and crunchy foods (like raw carrot sticks) whereas others enjoy them cooked. Keep in mind that children’s preferences may change over time. Also, change up your menus – too often parents will give in and have the same repertoire of weekly meals because they know their child will eat it. Instead, aim to introduce one or two new meals a week and make it a positive experience by creating a theme or having themed props for the table eg. for a Thai stir-fry dinner, ask the children to help you make fan serviettes for the table.

Portion it

When preparing a healthy dinner, aim to serve food for your children in the following proportions:

  • One-third of the plate with vegetables or salad; and
  • One-third of the plate with a ‘protein food’ – such as lean beef, lamb, fish, chicken, pork, eggs, tofu, legumes; and
  • One-third of the plate with a ‘carbohydrate food’ – such as rice, pasta, noodles, couscous, potato, bread.

If they have their favourite foods, try introducing a small amount of new fare alongside their best-loved cuisine so it’s not so intimidating.

Fussy eaters

Get Involved

You all know how much better a cake tastes when you’ve made it and iced it by hand. Using this same notion, let your child muck in and help make the family meals. By turning food into an experience, they’ll feel proud of what they’ve made and be more inclined to eat it all up. Get them to skim through your cookbooks and choose a dish, or help you wash the potatoes. Also, if they see you noshing on new foods, they’ll take a leaf out of your recipe book and give it a go themselves. Variety is the spice of life, so if they see you eating the same old things, it will be more difficult to broaden their food horizons. Try growing your own vegetables, herbs or fruits at home – this is a great way to help children learn where food comes from and to encourage them to try something new too.

Food Firsts

Food comes in all colours of the rainbow, so make sure you use them all and offer your child the whole spectrum of shapes, sizes and colours. Be persistent in offering previously rejected food; it can take up to 15 tries before a new food becomes a friend rather than a foe. And remember, to congratulate your child when they try something new – even if it’s just a small mouthful. Their efforts to learn about a new food by smelling, touching or tasting it is also important to acknowledge.

If you hang in there, more often than not, children become better eaters with age. Stick to your sprouts; be consistent and considered in your food-i-tude and one day, you’ll have a healthy, hearty eater on your hands.

Want to know what your child should be eating at childcare? Head here.

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