The pressure we put ourselves under when it comes to eating healthily can take the fun out of eating; factor in children, too, and mealtimes can become draining battlegrounds.
We want to do our best, we research guidelines and tips but so often we feel as if we are hitting a brick wall when it comes to getting little ones to eat their greens or try new flavours.
It’s so stressful when children refuse food, pick at it and don’t seem to be eating enough of what we think they need.
I know how I feel when I’m hungry. It can be worse for children who are dependent on others to provide their food.
The fraught nature of feeding children became clear during my work as a nanny. I was preparing meals 95% of the time and would spend many hours encouraging children to try new things through all means I could think of including interpretative dance at one point!
I was desperate to make meal times run more smoothly and to share my love of healthy eating. Some took it on board, some didn’t. I’m here to tell you how you can encourage without overpowering, why changing your language is key and why most meals are more adaptable than you think.
Here are some meal tips for fussy eaters.
The Pasta dish
It’s a guarantee that most children like pasta. Some like it plain, others don’t mind sauce but either way, parents feel the pressure of giving in to constant pasta demands each day.
Rather than serving up regular pasta, why not try some of the more natural? There’s a yummy spinach pasta that contains over 40% spinach and is a wonderful green colour and comes in cute spirals.
It’s interesting to look at and quick to cook! Make up a story about the origin of the pasta as you go along and don’t force it upon them directly, try a passing comment of asking if they’d like to check if the pasta is cooked for you?
Ask them to help you plate and serve depending on their age, and include something you know they do like alongside it such as some cucumber sticks, or a little cheese.
The meat dish
If you are meat eaters, try breading various things rather than just chicken nuggets which, like pasta, can be a firm favourite amongst children.
Breadcrumbs aren’t there to disguise a food at all, but to appear familiar and therefore create a sense of understanding for the child that different foods can look similar and taste equally as good as their usual meal.
This is also another way to involve them in a subtle way, and batches can be frozen for use another day.
The breakfast dish
Depending on your daily routine, breakfast time could be a quick rush out the door or a more relaxed affair. If you’re pushed for time, try preparing some overnight oats that contain hidden gems such as chia seeds (aka dinosaur eggs!) date syrup for lasting natural energy and sweetness plus a few hemp seeds for omegas.
Alternatively, set up an ‘oats bar’ with lots of colourful toppings such as dried cranberries, goji berries, blueberries and strawberries for them to create their muesli.
It doesn’t take long, is easy for little ones and fun too!
Each time can be an adventure exploring with different combinations.
The Veggie dish
Why is it always the veggies that get put down? Is it the strong taste that some have? The shapes? The texture?
Fortunately, veggies are very versatile and therefore can be adapted as much as you need them to be to subtly encourage children to try them.
Courgette chocolate muffins are a great example, and a lovely sweet treat that hides two whole courgettes in a batch of twelve.
Veggies balls made using sweet potato, cauliflower, carrots and spinach then rolled in bread crumbs and baked are a great addition as finger food to let children explore using all their senses.
My Tips For Positive Meal Times
When encouraging your child to try new flavours, be mindful of the language you use and try not to stress too much about it.
Try to spark conversation at meal times rather than talking at them. Yes, children need gentle guidance but I also find that the more you treat children like adults and respect their time and space the better the respond.
Try to avoid measuring the amount of food they eat.
Healthy eating shouldn’t be encouraged in ‘spoonfuls’ or ‘cups’. Try instead to discuss the benefits of different foods and educate your children about different types of meal – maybe even get hold of a chart that has a list of foods on and their benefits and what part of the body they help.
This can help turn frustrating meal times into fun, educational bonding times with your child that is supporting them on their curiosity journey.
– Former VIP nanny Lucy Boulton is the Lady’s parent expert www.lady.co.uk