How to encourage Fussy Eaters to Eat
There's not much more frustrating than a child who doesn't want to eat a meal we've lovingly prepared. With three children all close in age I've been hit with many a meal time where the meal I've produced has been poked and prodded and eventually left on the plate (or the floor as is more often the case), but three children who have all gone through a fussy stage has also given me a heap of handy tips to help in that season - and I now have three children exited to try new things, who eat most of what is put in front of them and who genuinely enjoy meal times.
Quick disclaimer: this is by no means a quick fix, nor is it aimed at children with food aversions/additional needs - every child is different so keep reading, keeping researching and keep holding on in there - you're doing great!
Children love to copy so prioritising eating together (and I mean around a table) really helps in encouraging children to eat the food set out. Research shows that eating around a table as a family just twice a week boosts confidence levels in fussy eaters, and helps with family connections as a whole. Your child watching you eat foods that they might be scared of or think are unsafe, will enable them to realise that the food is actually fine and they are safe to enjoy.
2. Keep introducing
DON'T GIVE UP. Know that your child hates broccoli? Keep introducing it. Child never eats sausage and mash as a dinner? Keep serving it. It can take up to 30 times of a food being introduced before a child will decide that they like something so keep persevering. Food waste is just part of the parenting journey.
3. Get them to help
A child who has helped to prepare and create a meal will be much more likely to try and then enjoy it! Simple tasks like stirring the pot, cutting vegetables or adding in herbs help your child to feel like they contributed and in most cases you'll see them eat the food that they lovingly made in total pride.
4. Let them play
I know, I know, this goes against everything we were taught as we were growing up as our parents yelled at us across the table, "don't play with your food!", but actually it's a really healthy way for your children to develop an excellent relationship with food. Let them touch and taste and explore. If you don't want them doing it at the table then set up sensory zones with food items throughout the day that they can use to explore the different textures, taste and smell of foods. The more they get to adventure into the world of food the more likely they are going to be to enjoy it.
5. Community eating
This is similar to eating around a table, but this time there's a difference - we're serving from the same dish. Saucepans full of bolognaise, snack plates and charcuterie boards, anything that everyone is served from the same way encourages the notion that the food is safe. I highly encourage snack plates - they are a great way to introduce lots of food (and plenty of new ones too!) in a non-confrontational way because there is simply so much to choose from!
6. Don't make it a thing
The aim is to create an environment around eating that feels peaceful and safe. Simply, we want to take the focus off the child and instead allow free-flowing conversation to happen. Not only does it distract a child from some of the emotions that may have built up over time with their reluctance/fear to try new foods, but it also allows them to tiptoe into new tastes without every eye being on them. Put the food on the table, start eating as a family and avoid constantly reminding your child to eat. Treat it as if it's not a thing and they will feel like they have the space to go for it.
7. Take the pressure off
The journey is long but it's important to remember that the pressure is off. There are loads of resources and help out there for families who are finding their children have severe eating issues or just aren't getting the appropriate nutrients that they need, but for the majority of us it's a season that we walk through that our children eventually work out. I have also found it important to remember that as adults we have food preferences and likes/dislikes - I want to respect that in my children too as they learn who they are. Deep breaths, you've got this!
Until next time...