Getting used to meal times, new foods, strange textures and flavours can be troubling for your kids; desperately cajoling your child into eating, only to watch the plate pushed back untried, equally stressful for you. So what to do – and not to do – with fussy eaters?
Losing it. Don’t do. If they decide against it before they’ve tasted it, back off. When they see steam coming out of Mummy’s ears, they’ll realise there’s mileage in the opposite direction. Know how to calm down. You’ll also teach them how to deal with their own anger. Mention it’s a shame because Granny or Daddy loves it, and how you think they’re missing out. Make ‘taking a bite of everything on my plate’ or ‘sitting at the table until I’m finished’ part of your child’s reward scheme. It’s normal for toddlers to decide they will eat just a few foods, partly because of a natural fear of new things. Angry discipline might get that meal eaten, but the aftershock will last for many meals to come.
Taking it slowly. Do. Introduce new foods gently, and be a good role model. Eat your salad. Try the new stuff. Don’t have cake for breakfast. But don’t expect it to happen overnight, don’t force it on them, and don’t point it out. Let them get it themselves – because they will.
Table commands. Don’t do. They’ll soon twig that there’s power and attention to be had from not eating something, even if they quite like it. Picky eating is also your toddler’s way of showing his independence as he learns to feed himself. He may be seeing how far he can push the limits of your authority and trying to assert some control over his life. That’s OK.
Sweet bribery. Don’t do. We know most kids will do anything for a sugar hit. But not only are you showing your desperation, you’re giving them a thoroughly unhelpful message – savoury bit bad, sweet bit good. Subconscious, but loud and clear and not helpful.
Healthy hunger. Do. Keep an eye on those sweet drinks during the day, and try not to keep junk food around the house so when your child does feel hungry, there are only healthy snacks available. Try using a snack jar to limit intake of these around mealtimes.
Reverse psychology. Don’t do: can’t win either way. Tell them they like something, and they won’t eat it. Tell them they don’t like something and they’ll stop eating it. Not only are you putting them in a position of power, you’re solidifying their mental list entitled ‘Foods I Will Never Like’. Just because they’ve turned their nose up at a food 10 times doesn’t mean they won’t fancy it another day.
Childlike reasoning. Do, but choose your time. Fish is good for your brain, pasta gives you lots of energy, and oranges are full of vitamin C. All true, and information that needs to get in there. But at this moment, just a more indirect way of initiating a power struggle. Kids need to learn about healthy eating, but the dinner table isn’t the place for it. Remember they’re not winding up, they’re growing up. Eat well and together when possible, feel confident your child’s body will guide it towards the nutrients required. It’s perfectly possible for you to get the good stuff into them and stay sane, even if not overnight. And if you want to ensure they grow up eating the bad stuff, try forcing them into the good stuff now.
Written by Tim Lywood for Single Parents on Holiday.