If you are a parent, you will undoubtedly know that meal times can sometimes be a challenge, even more so if you are the parent of a fussy eater. Knowing the struggle that impending meal times can cause, it is often easier to give into a child’s demands, but if this becomes normality, then you are only making it harder for yourself down the line. You may think that fussy eating is not a major concern and that given time, they will ‘just grow out of it’. Although this is the case in some children, or in mild cases of fussy eating, it isn’t always as simple as that and with research suggesting that severe fussy eaters are twice as likely to develop mental health problems later in life, it’s definitely an issue that should be taken more seriously.
Fussy eating is not the same in every child. It could be that a child refuses to eat what is placed in front of them and they demand something else, or sometimes it could be that a child only eats specific food items and refuses point blank to try anything new. Either of these scenarios fit in with ‘fussy eating behaviour’, especially if this behaviour is a regular meal time theme. If this sounds familiar then don’t despair, there are a few things you can do to help change their behaviour. It is never too late to start implementing change, but the earlier you do, the better it will be for you and your child in the long term.
Research shows that eating behaviours, habits and food choices become established in the first five years of life, serving as a foundation for adulthood eating practices. It is therefore very important to
address fussy eating habits in children as soon as you start to notice them. It can be a hard thing to tackle, but the sooner you do, the sooner you will get results. Do keep in mind however, that behaviour takes time to change, but change it will. Having patience is a virtue here! So let’s look at some strategies that you can easily implement that will slowly help to change those fussy eating habits and make meal times more pleasurable.
Playing with Food?
Although it may go against what we have always been told, allow children to play with their food. We all know that unfamiliarity can be a scary thing, especially as a child. By allowing them to handle/play with their food, smell it, squash it etc. will help them get use to the different textures of foods, even if they are not physically eating them. By doing this they will become more familiar with seeing these foods and thus more likely to try them later on. There is a difference though between handling foods in a learning capacity and misbehaving with food, so make sure the playing with food falls into the former category and not the latter.
If you know your child only eats certain things, it is easy to get into the habit of just making those meals and placing those foods in front of your child on a regular basis. This is not a good idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly it means your child will not be getting variety in their diet, which means they may be missing out on vital nutrients provided by some foods. Secondly, it means you are not helping your child become familiar with any other food. It is therefore very important to always put new foods on your child’s plate on a daily basis. Even if you know they won’t eat it, put it on the plate anyway. Don’t cajole them into eating the foods, or even mention that it is there, but by them seeing it regularly they will start to get used to it. Research shows that a child needs to see a new food at least 10-12 times before they feel comfortable with it. If you only give them what they want and are familiar with, the older they get the harder it will be for them and you, as they won’t be familiarised with other foods.
Get your child cooking
One fun and easy thing you can do to help fussy eating, is getting your children involved in the food making process. Even allowing them to help in some small way in their own food preparation can make a huge difference to whether they will eat something. Depending on their age you can get children to stir the food up, roll something out, sprinkle something on, all of which can help get them interested in foods and more likely to try them.
There are some fantastic, tasty recipes available here on the Delamere Dairy website, which you can get your child involved with making. Delamere Dairy goats’ products, such as the honey goats’ cheese log, or the mild goats’ cheese, are deliciously tasty, but mild too so are well suited for a child’s picky palate. So take a look and get your child to select a recipe they may like to try and get cooking (a fantastic rainy day activity during the summer holidays). By involving your child in the cooking process and familiarising them with a variety of foods at a young age, also encourages better eating practices in adulthood, so not only do you get help in the kitchen, but you are also creating a good foundation for healthy eating later in life.
Fun, fun and more fun
Make meal times fun! Get your child’s favourite teddy or doll and sit them at the table with your child and give them a plate too with some foods on. Have an indoor picnic or eat outside on the grass if the
changing the environment can also impact on a child’s eating habits.
weather is nice, as changing the environment can also impact on a child’s eating habits. Don’t underestimate the power of distraction too. When children are having fun and are distracted by that fun, sometimes food can often be eaten without even much thought. So get the creative juices flowing and think up some creative ways to make meal times more fun. We would love to hear about the fun things you try and that work, so feel free to share your successes on the Delamere Dairy Facebook page.
Research has also shown using something like a food sticker chart, which uses a reward type system can be very helpful in getting children to try new foods. This idea being that if a child tries a new food
(even if it’s just a small piece), they get a sticker on their chart. Set an achievable goal, so for example if your child achieves four stickers on the chart in a week for trying four new foods then they will get a small reward (the emphasis is on small here, such as a trip to the park or a visit to the swimming pool. Don’t however use food as a reward). If you as the parent also have a chart, which you complete along with your child, it further incentivises them to try new foods too, as it causes a little bit of healthy competition. Having stickers also makes it more fun and shows the child visually what they are working towards. You can change both the food type and reward type on the sticker chart according to the age of your child and food preferences.
Dealing with fussy eating can sometimes feel like an uphill battle with no end in sight, but implementing some of the small changes mentioned above should not only help improve your child’s eating habits, but bring some much needed fun back into meal times.