Fussy eaters can make meal times a hassle. Studies show it can take 10 or more attempts before a child accepts a new food, but according to the Australian Healthy Food Guide, 53 per cent of Australian parents with fussy eaters will give up offering a new food if the child has not accepted it after only two or three attempts.
So, why do our kids get fussy with certain foods?
Whilst distressing to manage as a parent, fussy eating is very normal. As is, children can go from loving something one day to spitting it out the next. Babies acquire specific eating habits from their first bites of food. Healthy habits and food preferences are a learned process and it is important to focus on them early in life, and is all just part of their physical, emotional and social development as they explore their world. Do your best to have realistic expectations, know that meal times aren’t meant to be rigid or perfect and focus on encouraging your little one for their accomplishments at meal times, no matter how seemingly insignificant.
In the meantime, here are some tips to help manage the fussy phase, including ways to get them to eat the dreaded vegetable!
Offer a variety of choices
Offering your child a selection of healthy and balanced food choices allows them to make their own decisions and build a better relationship with food. Rather than rousing on picky eaters for not eating certain foods, have a range of different healthy choices on the dinner table and let them choose what they like. Keep in mind that if a child is repeatedly told they are fussy, it can cause unneeded stress and concern for them and reinforce their pickiness. It’s okay if they only choose one type of food from that mix.
Include familiar foods
Whilst we all love whipping up a culinary delight in the kitchen, meals that are heavy in unfamiliar vegetables can be really daunting for kids. Children like to see something familiar. If your kids love pasta, use pasta as a base to then add in new foods. Why not try adding fresh peas or zucchini ribbons to their pasta. This is a simple way to integrate a new vegetable without too much fuss.
Let your child make choices with their food
Giving your little one some independence when choosing foods will encourage their sense of control and likelihood of partaking in the actual eating – which is what we are after. Whilst variety is the aim, try not to overload your kids with too many food options. Narrow the options by asking, “would you like a banana or carrot sticks with hummus for morning tea?”. Another way to imbed a sense of independence and responsibility is to get your kids in the kitchen. Allow them to partake in an age-appropriate task to help prepare part of the meal with you – maybe even bring the kids shopping to help select the ingredients or get them to help set the table.
Avoid comparing them to each other
As tempting as it is, you have to stop yourself from comparing your children to one another. Telling your child “Look at your sister, she eats all of her carrots” will make your child hear, “she is better than you”, which can of course make kids defensive, hurt and mad. Remember siblings have rivalry enough, meal times don’t need to be turned into a competition too. Happy kids, happy house!
Kids can pick up a lie a mile away. Hiding fruits and vegetables in a recipe just builds a lot of distrust and suspicion in a child, making them fear the food more. Instead, try serving their distrusted food, maybe broccoli or capsicum in their favourite food like chicken stir-fry, corn fritters or even a scrumptious pasta bake. Don’t try going out of your way to hide it.
Make veggies look great
Try serving bright veggie sticks on a plate with a dip like hummus or tzatziki as a snack or mini meal. You can pile grated vegetables into colourful stacks or cut them into fun shapes. Remember, the look of a dish is just as important as it tastes for kids! Make them excited to eat it – go for varying colours, shapes, sizes and textures.
Grow your own vegetable garden
Just like your little one does at Greenwood, getting them in the garden is the best way to get them to love their veggies. Studies suggest that kids eat more fruits and vegetables when the produce is home-grown and they have a part in tending to them. The more children are involved happily with veggies, the more receptive they will be with them.
Don’t use food as a bribe
Whilst you may see the offer of dessert as the perfect way to coax your child to eat that little last bit of pumpkin on their plate, it can be more damaging than you realise. Making vegetables a chore on the way to a reward can make your child turn against them even more, holding resentment at the fact that the vegetable is between them and that fruit yoghurt they’ve been eyeing. Setting up a positive relationship with food is the key to healthy living, so hatred of veggies isn’t really going to help.
The power of leading by example
Our little nuggets of joy are like sponges, and whilst we don’t want them to take in the “not so great” moments we have as parents, we can inform their nutritional habits by eating the same sorts of foods we are encouraging them to eat everyday. If we can start “doing rather than simply saying”, our children will too reflect our positive eating habits as parents.