Help, my child won’t eat! A guide to fussy eaters

You hear it every mealtime. ‘I’m not eating that’ and ‘I don’t like it!’ or ‘Mum, I want something else!’ Well, if your child is a picky eater, Virginnia Thomas from Nourishing Pantry is here to help!

Do you dread meal times because you know they’ll ends in tears, sometimes the kids and sometimes yours? Do you cook the same food every day because at least they’ll eat it? Are you concerned that your child might not be getting all the nutrients they need?

Take a deep breath, remind yourself that you are doing the very best that you can and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. I hear stories almost daily from concerned mums who are worried about their picky eater and their situation is very rarely as bad as they think. 

Why kids refuse food

Food can be the very first source of power for a toddler. It’s something that they can control. Saying no can feel wonderful, it gets Mummy to play aeroplanes with the spoon or it gets her to sing a funny song and do a dance so they eat. Eventually this becomes a game, which could be fun for a little while then wears very thin. Remember, it’s your job to offer a reasonable variety of nutritious food at meal times and it’s the child’s job to eat.

Exposing kids to new flavours

All kids go through phases, so just because they won’t eat fish today doesn’t mean you should stop trying fish. Research shows that children need to see, smell, touch and taste a new food somewhere between 7 and 15 times before it stops being a “new” food. Let’s face it that’s a lot, so sometimes it’s easier to give up! 

Being a good food role model 

Try not to let your own prejudice influence them. If you have an aversion to cooked Brussels sprouts don’t let that stop you making it for the kids- they might love them fried with bacon and butter. Being a good role model is also important, ensure your own plate has variety, and show them that you enjoy eating healthy food as much as the hot chips or the slice of cake. Take the plunge give them something new!

Top tips for success:

  • Try presenting a very small serving, just teaspoon at each meal, alongside something you know they like. Don’t make a big deal about it just ensure that it is on the plate.
  • Only serve one new thing at a time and focus on that food for the next week. Too many unfamiliar things is unsettling and scary for many children.
  • Try the “touch it, sniff it, kiss it rule”. At least they are getting a tiny taste but don’t force the issue, it’s simply not worth battling over food.
  • If your kids are old enough take them to a growers market or the supermarket and let them choose something new then come home and find a recipe to use it. Make this a fun family activity.
  • Present the food in a new way, serve it raw rather than cooked, mashed or cut into strips, make a pattern on the plate or a face shape anything to mix it up.
  • Avoid a big afternoon snack so that when dinner is served everyone is hungry, or make the snack a part of dinner. If you struggle with vegetables at dinner time, why not serve carrot sticks, cucumber and baby tomatoes for a snack? That’s at least a couple of serves right there. Add a hummus or mild salsa on the side as kids love to dip.
  • Talk to your child about what the food will do for them. It can make them run fast, grow strong, have energy to play, be like Superman, whatever works in your house. Kids really don’t care that the spinach has iron and vitamin C.  I have been known to resort to Shrek juice and magical fairy potions to convince the kids.

Other factors to consider…

  • If you are concerned or struggling with a really fussy eater there could be an underlying issue so please consider the following and speak with a professional for help.
  • Consider an intolerance. Is the food causing your child to simply feel yuck?  Children often avoid foods that upset them without even knowing that they are doing so.
  • Could the issue be sensory, are there certain colours or textures that they avoid?
  • Keep a diary of what your child does eat, it may not be as bad as it feels every meal time and is probably nutritionally balanced over the week.  This will also help the professional get a feel for what the issue maybe.
  • If you have any other suggestions please leave a comment, we can all learn from each other and our varied experiences!

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