Thanks to Jodie Read, Certified Paediatric Dietitian (and co-founder of Rainebeau Co), for contributing this fantastic guest blog on Fussy Eating to Little Peeps Eats.
How do we get our children to eat healthy meals?
Fussy eating is a normal stage for your child to go through, and this happens usually around the toddler years. Some children will insist on only eating the same thing over and over and any new foods they refuse to try.
Making healthy varied meals for your child only to have them refused and thrown on the floor can be frustrating, upsetting and most likely messy! The good news is that this stage should only be temporary, and there are a few strategies you can try to encourage new foods and expand their choices.
A bit of mess, and food exploration is part of the process of a child discovering and learning about new foods before they may enjoy them. However to encourage them to try new foods, and be a little hungry when meal times come around it can help to be aware of things that may impact on their appetite first.
How to encourage a healthy appetite
- High sugar drinks such as soft drink should generally be avoided, and juice to be served an occasional basis only (providing fresh fruit to eat is a much better option). Water or milk are much better alternatives for drinking. Limit milk to no more than 600ml/day after the age of 1.
- Provide easy access to healthy foods, such as a bowl of nuts or fruit, a grazing platter of wholegrain crackers, cheese or vegetable sticks on the table for your child to snack on if they are hungry between meals.
- Limit unhealthy snacks that do not meet nutritional guidelines. Too much of these types of foods are not only unhealthy but impact appetite at meal times.
- Don’t provide less healthy alternatives, if any, when a meal is refused. Most children won’t let themselves starve.
- Meal times should be undistracted by TV, and shared as a family. Chat about your day, say thank you to who made the food, and where it came from. These discussions connect the family, but also help connect the child to the food, and create the bond between them and their meal.
- Drive an appetite – be active. It’s also good to be aware that in the current environment we live in with less kids riding and walking to school, and endless screen time, kids are less active and on their feet.
- The more a child moves, the more hungry they are, the more they eat, and the more nutrients they get.
How food exploration can help with fussy eating
Food exploration is about ongoing activities that allow the child to explore the food and become comfortable with the food. Being comfortable with foods comes before trying a food. A child that refuses foods usually feels uncomfortable with that food as oppose to disliking the taste.
Food Exploration is playing, touching, learning as oppose to eating. Eating is the last thing on the activity list.
Food exploration activities:
- Take them fruit picking at places such as a strawberry farm or if a friend has a fruit tree casually ask your child if they can pick and bag some of their fruit to take home.
- Give you’re a child a safe knife and a vegetable each day to cut up for dinner (grating is another option). Don’t worry if it goes in the bin or is cut completely wrong the main thing is he thinks he’s helping with the dinner as oppose to doing a designated activity. It’s about getting them comfortable with that vegetable.
- Find children’s books that discuss fruit and vegetables in a positive way and read to them at night before bed. It doesn’t need to be discussed in relation to their picky eating, simply just read the book to them. A great book is Charlie and Lola I won’t ever eat a tomato.
- Plant some seeds and ask your child to water them every day with you. When they are ready to pick, get them to pick it and take it to the kitchen. They can wash it, and chop it for dinner. I also rotate my kids to do the vegie scraps to the compost to teach them about recycling and how plants grow but also to handball a job!
- Make Kale chips, and they can massage the Kale. Massaging Kale for 10 minutes breaks down the cellulose and makes it less tough and bitter. Ask your child to do the massaging, then bake them into chips, salt and serve!
- Make funny faces with chopped up fruit and vegetables, everyone can have a go. Or our favorite make a rainbow out of vegetables including purple cabbage, red, green and yellow capsicum and some carrot. So much fun!
- Once a week introduce a new food onto the plate next to 2-3 other foods that the child likes. It may be best to have in separate compartments, bento style, so they don’t touch and the child feels his other food is safe. Even if they just take one bite I always say I will be happy! Or at first it may be just have a smell.
- Introduce fun at the dinner table – check out Milton the Mealtime Companion – the perfect fun eating companion your child will just love sharing a meal with.
- Do a food exploration game – Food five ways. Serve up a food they like but serve it up in five ways. The way they like, then in different forms. This can include grated, cubed, shaped in stars, cooked and mashed, without peel, just the peel, blended in a smoothie, made into muffins, served with a dipper such as hummus. They can start by eating the one they like then you sit with them and have your plate too and talk about what you like. It’s about picking it up, talking about, how it feels, smells, looks, and then finally tastes. If they don’t taste it’s okay. Just talk about all the different aspects of it.
Other tips for fussy eating that can help include
- Give your child small portions. A big serve of a new food can be daunting. But starting with a couple of spoonful’s or pieces in front of them allows them to try without the food waste and mess. If they like it you can always serve up a more!
- Try to sit and eat with your children. Show your enjoyment for your meal as you both eat together. A loud “MMM YUM!” as you take a bite and chew tends to bring a smile to their face and can result in them doing an imitation with their next mouth full. If you want your child to eat their vegetables and fruit it must be a big part of your diet too.
- Try to be patient and relaxed about trying new foods. Being stressed over their fussiness has a tendency to make matters worse.
- Serve their favorite vegetables. Add one new vegie to 2 old faves Once again, it may not be as daunting as a whole plate full of new vegies, and you might just sneak a new one through.
- Try not to make a big fuss when your child refuses a food. Take it away and try it again the next week or month. You may need to offer your child a food 10 times before they will accept or like it.
Some extreme cases of fussy eating may require further attention, and best to seek out tailored advice from a health professional. You can get in touch with a qualified professional on the Little Peeps Eats directory, however most of the time a little patience and a lot of fun will make meal times more enjoyable.
Certified Paediatric Dietitian