Top tips to try at the table
Is mealtime becoming a war zone? Do your kid’s food preferences – or lack of them – dominate the dinner conversation? Do you find yourself making different food for every member of the family? Are you scratching your head as to how to make eggs feel “less icky”?
Having a fussy eater can take the fun out of food. But it’s not uncommon.
In fact, it’s pretty normal for children to be picky eaters. After all, food does come in countless shapes, colours and textures – so there’s plenty to have an opinion about. And it’s also common for a kid to like something one day but hate it the next, to refuse to eat new foods and to eat different amounts from day to day.
It’s part of how kids develop. They’re showing independence and exploring the environment; they’re growing and activity levels are fluctuating – all of which influences how and what they eat. Thankfully, as they get older, children typically get less fussy and eventually eat a wide variety of foods.
But until then, we all must survive.
Mealtime is a significant social time during a child’s day. They can learn about food while also connecting with others. Eating in a positive, relaxed atmosphere can help children develop healthy attitudes about food and themselves. Therefore, it’s worthwhile to do what we can to make it bearable for everyone involved.
So if you’re fighting the urge to hit your kid with a carrot or starting to dread sit-down suppers, the following tips may be useful to make each meal a happier one.
5 Top tips for fussy eaters
Make mealtime family time. Sit at the table and eat together as a family. Don’t feed your kids when they are watching TV, playing or walking around. Distractions like toys, books and phones do not belong at the table. And be a good role model. If everyone, especially older brothers and sisters, is happily eating healthy food, your child will be more likely to follow suit.
Keep it consistent. Eating three meals and up to three snacks at regular times throughout the day also helps to keep from filling up before meals, as does offering only water between meals and snacks. If your little darling refuses to eat at snack or mealtime, offer food at the next scheduled time only. They won’t starve and will likely do a good job of the next meal.
Prepare only one meal for the whole family but be flexible. Giving your child just their favourite foods won’t help anyone. So make one meal, but include at least one food that you know your child likes. Give appropriate portions and offer them the chance to make a choice – raw or cooked, mashed or not, one bite or two, with or without gravy.
Don’t give up on a food. Keep offering new foods even if your kid has refused them before. It takes as many as 10 times for a child to try a food and like it. Different recipes at different meals in different surroundings may just do the trick.
Get them involved. Children like to know what’s for dinner and like to help decide. Include them in a discussion about balanced meals and make a plan. Invite him or her along to the grocery store. Involve them in meal preparation – let them wash veggies, stir sauces, toss the salad, help set the table.
When it’s over, it’s over. Limit mealtime to a maximum of 30 minutes. After this, put the food away and leave the table. They probably won’t eat any more but will become more annoyed or annoying. No fun for anyone.
Other ideas to keep feeding time fun
Change the culture of your meals by inviting others to join you. And if they are adventurous eaters, so much the better. Encourage conversation and ask for opinions. If talking about the day causes problems, introduce some interesting open-ended questions like “What would you do with a million dollars?” If you feel it would be positive, talk about the meal, what dish you liked the best, what you might try next time.
Sometimes kids are actually full, trust that they know and leave it at that. Sometimes children make a fuss for attention, play it cool, wrap things up and try again at the next meal. Sometimes hard, tough, dry or slimy textures do cause issues, try to adapt when it’s appropriate. Punishing or bribing won’t help to develop healthy eating habits, but positive support and patience typically does. We all need to eat, and eventually we all will.