Making sure a child is eating healthily is both a priority and a challenge for care givers, and fussy eating can be stressful to deal with. There are many reasons why children may be refusing food, but it’s important not to give up, as a healthy and varied diet will ensure that your child receives all the nutrients they need to grow, learn, and defend themselves from illness.
Reward charts provide simple and clear reinforcement of positive behaviour and allow you to keep track of your child’s food habits. Give your child a gold star or sticker for every time they finish their meal or try a new food and reward them when they hit a certain target (10 new foods, for example). This turns the process of trying new things into a positive experience, backed up with rewards.
Children aren’t necessarily going to eat food just because you’ve put it in front of them – they may need a little nudge and it’s ok to interact with them during mealtime. Using a few key phrases that play on your child’s desire not to miss out can help to encourage them to finish their food.
Children need to be stimulated, particularly when something becomes routine. So if you want your child to eat well, dispel the myth that it’s bad to play with your food and start having some fun.
If there is an ingredient that your child is particularly fussy about, often it will be the texture or the colour that is putting them off rather than the taste, so present it in a different way. If vegetables are a problem, for example, try adding them into pasta sauce or soup; add fruit into a smoothie or a milkshake, and try chopping food into different shapes such as sticks, cubes or even stars.
Food bridges are about building on your child’s favourite foods. If your child likes cheese, for example, try grating apple or carrot on top. If they like mash, try mixing in onion, parsnip or carrot. You could soon find that you’ll be able to serve the additional ingredients on their own.
Involving children in their food choices can be introduced from a young age. Toddlers can be involved during the supermarket shop. If you grow your own fruit or vegetables, young children can help with planting and picking. Older children can help produce a meal plan for the week and get involved in tasting the food before it is served.
Plates with faces and shaped utensils can make children more excited about the process of eating. If your child likes monkeys, for example, consider a monkey-shaped plate and a banana-shaped spoon. There are lots of options available in the market. For older children, using grown-up forks can be as equally appealing as the novelty forks for youngsters.
Who are the role models in your children’s life? If you have a picky eater ask them what their family members, childminders, athlete or pop star role models eat and use this as a tool to encourage them to do the same.