We all know one or two of them – the picky eaters who turn their noses up at anything green, gag at the sight of unfamiliar textures, or refuse to eat anything that isn’t beige or covered in cheese. While it can be frustrating for parents, caregivers, and even the child themself, it is not helpful to describe the child as ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ as it can ignore the fact that refusing certain foods is not necessarily a phase that children always outgrow. It is a real challenge that requires patience, empathy, and effective strategies to support a balanced diet. In this blog post, we will explore some tips and strategies for supporting children on their journey towards a healthier, more diverse diet.
How to support a “fussy eater”?
Foster a Positive Mealtime Environment
Creating a positive and relaxed mealtime atmosphere is crucial in relation to children. Avoid making mealtimes stressful or a battleground for control. Instead, encourage a pleasant and social dining experience where everyone can enjoy their food together. Turn off the TV and put away electronic devices to minimise distractions, allowing your child to focus on their meal.
Be a Role Model
Children often mimic the behaviour of adults, so it’s important to lead by example. Demonstrate a healthy and varied diet by eating a wide range of foods yourself. When children see their parents or caregivers enjoying a variety of foods, they are more likely to be curious and willing to try new things in their own time.
Involve Them in Meal Preparation
Allowing children to participate in meal preparation can be a fun and educational experience. Let them choose fruits, vegetables, or other ingredients at the grocery store and involve them in age-appropriate cooking tasks. This can pique their interest and make them more willing to taste the final dish. There are child friendly knives and peelers available to help encourage independence in the kitchen.
Gradual Exposure to New Foods
Introducing new foods gradually is key in respect to children. Start with small portions of unfamiliar foods alongside familiar ones. Encourage your child to take a small bite, and praise their efforts, even if they don’t like it. Repeated exposure can increase acceptance over time. Don’t give up!
Respect Their Preferences
While encouraging a diverse diet is important, it’s also crucial to respect your child’s food preferences to some extent. Everyone has their likes and dislikes, so avoid forcing them to eat something they truly detest. Instead, find creative ways to incorporate their preferred foods into balanced meals.
Offer Healthy Choices
Ensure that the options available are nutritious. Stock your kitchen with a variety of healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and dairy products. Limit the availability of sugary snacks and highly processed foods, which can hinder the development of a healthy palate. Home baked desserts and goodies will be a healthier option to shop bought ones.
Stay Calm and Patient
It’s easy to become frustrated when your efforts are refused! But it’s essential to remain patient and calm. Pressuring your child to eat or showing frustration can make mealtime even more stressful and create negative associations with food.
Seek Professional Help If Needed
If your child’s picky eating is causing significant nutritional concerns or emotional distress, consider consulting a paediatrician, psychologist or family nutrition and health coach who specialises in this area such as Dr Colette Reynolds, Growing Healthy Eaters, who has co-created our Smart Eating For Infants & Children course. They can provide specialised advice and strategies tailored to your child’s specific needs.
Supporting eating healthy habits with our children can be a challenging journey, but it’s essential to remember that it’s a normal part of a child’s development. By creating a positive mealtime environment, being patient, and gradually introducing new foods, you can help your child develop a more diverse and balanced diet. Ultimately, the goal is to foster a healthy relationship with food and ensure that they receive the necessary nutrients for their growth and development.
If you would like to learn more about how you can best support your children’s nutritional need, why not join our Smart Eating For Infants & Children course.