There is so much advice available to parents with regard to how best to nourish a child, and whole industries have been established around this topic.
You may still be haunted by the guilt that during the weaning process you didn’t have the time (or maybe the inclination) to steam, purée and pack ice cube trays full of organic vegetables in order to prepare baby-sized chunks of frozen goodness.
And even if you did go through the trials of such preparation, all of your hard work and effort may have been thwarted when your child took one baby spoonful of the warmed-up goo only to projectile spit it out at you. Maybe things didn’t get any better for you as they moved on to finger food, preferring a strict diet of breadsticks against any sniff of a carrot baton.
It could be that the transition to full meals saw no further joy. At a time when we know it’s crucial for our child’s health that they eat the correct amount of vitamins, minerals, proteins and starches, your child won’t touch anything green and turns their nose up at any kind of protein. Your friends’ children appear to be eating really well, yet all your child wants to munch on is jam sandwiches.
There are usually ways to get through eating barriers and one of the best places to start is for you to stop being stressed about it. Tastes can be developed and a more varied diet is achievable.
The following pointers will help you out in your quest to turn your child into a ‘good eater’ but if in doubt, the key is to remember that if you are struggling you are not alone, and to try not to beat yourself up about it.
Top tips for parents of fussy eaters
Look at the positives
- Make a list of all the things your child does eat – you might just be surprised.
Try not to force the issue
- If you insist that a child does something, you are bound to confront their iron will and, where food is concerned, they can become accomplished at firmly refusing to eat.
- If you present food with the message: ‘eat it, it’s good for you’, your child will simply hear, ‘Yuck, that’s what you said when you tried to make me eat sprouts’ and the automatic response will be resistance.
- Try to get your child to take responsibility for their eating. A good way to start is by placing food in the middle of the table at mealtimes and asking your child to serve themselves. You’ll be surprised at the positive results this small action can have.
Keep it simple
- It’s quite normal for children to want to be able to identify the food they are eating. Hiding things in a sauce can be off-putting and can lead to your child spending the whole mealtime picking ‘bits’ out. If you find that your child prefers to see clearly what’s in their food, don’t be afraid to go along with this desire as you try to get them to eat and try new foods.
- A dish containing just a few elements can seem more manageable for a child than a feast of different things to taste. Some children don’t like the different elements of the dish they’re eating to be touching each other; if this is the case, simply arrange food in a way that means your child is happy to eat it.
We eat with all of our senses, not just taste
- The way things are presented can be a deal-breaker, too much on a plate can be a complete turn-off, especially to a child.
- Persevere with different textures – anecdotal impressions gleaned from our food survey clearly indicate that texture is a key driver in a child’s like or dislike of a food. It’s tempting to purée stuff because that’s what very young children are brought up on so it’s what they are used to but, the longer you keep to purées, the more difficult it will be to transition to different textures.
- Make food colourful – children are often attracted by the most brightly coloured foods.
How to get started
Bring some fun into eating
- Turn the plate into a picture – mashed-potato hair, peas for eyes, a carrot nose, a sausage smile…
- Create patterns on the plate to make food look more interesting.
- Try different ways of eating – experiment with fi nger food (sticky rice balls dipped in sauce), prepare a medieval banquet where it’s de rigueur to get mucky with drumsticks, dabble with chopsticks, twizzle spaghetti…
- Turn eating into a game – introduce new tastes with a teaspoon test by laying out a range of foodstuffs on a tray and asking your child to describe the flavours – salty or sweet; sour or fresh, etc.
Less is more
- It might seem basic but remember a child’s stomach is smaller than an adult’s so it doesn’t need as much food. It’s worth noting that your stomach is approximately the size of your fi st, and most of us eat more than we need.
- Most adults have three meals a day. Children on the other hand can be ‘grazers’ – only wanting to eat when they’re hungry. There are mixed opinions about this issue. If you are happy to let your child graze, just make sure their snacks are healthy but remember, the more consumed in between meals, the smaller the appetite at mealtimes.
- Children’s appetites can be unpredictable. Some days they’ll pick, other days they’ll be ravenous. So long as your child averages out with a decent amount of ‘fuel’, and they are thriving, don’t panic when they have an ‘off day’ – stubbornness will never win over hunger in the end.
Same old, same old
- Don’t panic if your child repeatedly eats the same thing. Children like repetition and are quite happy to eat the same thing over and over no matter how dull it might seem to you.
- It’s quite normal for children to be ‘scared’ of some foods; try to be sensitive to this when you introduce something new or unusual. If you want to introduce a new taste or texture, try presenting it alongside some familiar and liked foods.
- Sometimes offering a child a choice of what, or how much to eat can be the road to disaster when a child is fussy (not to mention the nightmare it causes for the person having to prepare three different meals to fit all tastes) – if you use some of the tips above and simply present a dish as a fait accompli at least you don’t have to have a battle of negotiation.
If at first you don’t succeed
- Remember that it takes at least seven times of tasting something new before reluctant taste buds can really decide whether they’re prepared to go along with a new taste.
- If your child doesn’t like meat or fish, protein can be found in many other sources such as butter, eggs, milk, cheese, yoghurt, beans and nuts so if you are worried about their protein intake try some vegetarian recipes.
- Every child is different and we cannot claim to provide you with a magic wand to wave but if you give these suggestions a try you may well find a winning solution.
Extracted from ‘Never Mind the Sprouts: Simple and Easy Recipes that all the Family Will Enjoy – Especially Fussy Easters’ by Alastair Williams and Claire Plimmer, priced at £9.99 and available from amazon.co.uk