The majority of children go through a fussy eating phase. Even those who enjoyed certain tastes during weaning may start to reject certain foods and develop preferences. The trick is to try to make food fun. In the first few years babies grow rapidly, almost tripling in weight, but this slows when they hit the toddler through pre-school years, and this can sometimes affect their appetite. Fussy eating can be a child’s way of asserting their independence and their favourite meal one day may become a snubbed food the next with another historically less popular choice becoming their new favourite. For weeks they may appear to eat nothing but 1 or 2 preferred foods but don’t worry, simply continue to offer healthy choices in the knowledge that this is totally normal behaviour for this age, and, with time, it will usually resolve itself.
Here are some tips that might help you make food fun as you navigate the fussy eater stage:
Making food fun: Children are fascinated and attracted to anything eye-catching & creative. Making foods look irresistible by arranging them in fun, colourful shapes should make them more inclined to try them. Dips are a fantastic fun way to get kids to try new foods especially served with finger foods like vegetable crudités or strips of protein or bread. Hummus and Greek yogurt dips are nutritious and delicious.
TOP TIP: Cut solid foods into bite size pieces they can easily eat themselves, making sure the pieces are small enough to avoid the risk of choking.
Little chefs: There are lots of fun cooking tasks that are safe for children to help with in the kitchen when supervised by an adult. Sifting, stirring, counting ingredients, picking fresh herbs from a garden or windowsill, tipping pre-weighed ingredients into bowls and “painting” on cooking oil or egg-wash with a pastry brush, to name a few. Make kids even more involved and receptive to trying new foods by reading kid-friendly cookbooks together and letting them pick out which recipes to cook before getting them involved in the process itself. Remember to praise them and tell them how delicious the food is when you are eating the meal together so that they feel proud of what they had a hand in making.
Enjoyable Mealtimes: Sharing a relaxing and fun meal with family or exposing them to eating healthy foods & snacks together with friends during a play date can help a child feel comfortable to try new foods that they see family or peers eating. Only serve one option at mealtimes, incorporating at least one food that you know they like. If a child rejects the prepared dish, resist the urge to make a different option for them as this can serve to promote fussy eating and will mean extra work in the kitchen. Don’t get discouraged if they don’t eat it. To minimise waste, offer new foods in small amounts. Keep mealtimes positive and continue to consistently present them with a balanced meal at each mealtime. Try, try, try again. They say that a child might need to try a new flavour up to 8 times before they get used to it. Be persistent as children who are exposed to a large variety of foods at a young age tend to be less fussy eaters as they grow up.
TOP TIP: Avoid distractions like having the TV on and have a rule banning any technology at the dinner table. This will be appreciated in their teenage years!
Food bribery: Children pick up on our moods and emotions. If a child refuses a meal it is important that you maintain a positive approach. Pressuring, bribing or punishing a child to eat is not fun and should be avoided at all costs as this could quickly result in nightly battles at the dinner table. Ask yourself if they are actually hungry, if they had a large breakfast or have recently consumed a snack. Maybe they are not ready to eat again just yet. Children won’t deliberately starve themselves and will eat when they are hungry. Learning to listen to your body’s cues for hunger and thirst are important skills. Scheduled meals, portion size and limiting snacks can help ensure they are hungry when it’s time to eat.
Video: Watch “I Will Not Ever Never Eat a Tomato”
If you are concerned and need child nutritional advice, talk to your paediatrician or a qualified child dietitian who can help troubleshoot and advise on meal plans that include all the necessary nutrients for optimal growth and development. Remember fussy eating is a normal developmental stage for toddlers. Do your best to patiently guide them on their path toward healthy eating.
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