Strategies to cope with Fussy Eaters
Fussy eaters – You may have one, know one or maybe you were one.
I have (or had) a fussy eater. I used to feel like a failure but soon discovered that fussy eating is a normal part of childhood and can actually be seen as part of a child’s development. I am mum to 2 gorgeous boys and both were brought up in completely the same way. The older one loves his food and eats everything (except cheese but that is another story) and the younger (now 8 y.o.) was so fussy.
If possible, he would have eaten pasta for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So to avoid the inevitable tantrum every meal when it wasn’t pasta, we dedicated one night a week to pasta. My husband and I are lovers of food and it was initially really hard for me to comprehend his aversion to such delicious food.
I had a number of tactics to bring him into the fold.
- As he got older I taught him to be capable in the kitchen. I taught him how to use a knife safely. He feels so grown up and loves to help make dinner and because he made the meal, he feels compelled to eat it. Through this process he has found a passion for food.
- I also taught him how to make all the dressings for the salads and now that is his job. He does all the taste testing with really grown up suggestions for flavour enhancement.
- No matter what my kids want to taste, I let them. So if it’s a chilli he wants, that’s OK. I describe the flavour but never say you won’t like that. If they insist on trying it, I let them with the result declared as ‘yum’, often purely out of pride with watering eyes grabbing the nearest drink.
- Finally, I seek his advice on the flavours for our meals. I actually wrote a cookbook. I don’t suggest everyone do this, but I always seek his advice on the flavours in the recipes. Again, feeling needed he tucks in straight away, and usually ends up loving it. He gives my meals a rating out of 10 and provides very helpful recommendations as to what it may need. (I hope he doesn’t do this with his wife when he is older 🙂 – she may not appreciate it like I do).
Other tips I learnt along the way:
- Continue to serve up vegies and foods that the kids apparently don’t like. Just don’t offer it every night. Mix it up and one day they will like them.
- Praise when they try new food. I often used to say to my fussy eater, “I’m so glad you’re not missing out on this delicious food anymore.”
- We have one major rule when it comes to food, you must try it. And we never describe food as yuk! Now the kids are older, they have to say why they don’t like it. It makes them seriously think about what it is that they don’t like and sometimes helps them to realise it is not a particular food but the combination of that food with something else.
- Just because they don’t like cheese in a sandwich, doesn’t mean that they don’t like melted cheese, or feta cheese instead of cheddar. Don’t let one sweeping statement dictate your meals. And if they do make the statement “I don’t like cheese” remind them that it is just that one particular way they don’t like cheese, and remind them how they do like.
- Cook meals to please the whole family. Tweak it slightly to adjust to individual tastes (maybe add chopped chilli to your plate) but don’t make the mistake of ‘dumbing down’ your delicious meals because of the kids. It widens their variety and their palate to eat with you and is also good for them to see you enjoy the food and the flavours.
- This is an obvious one but try to ignore the carry on and give it very little cred. Don’t make too much fuss. Allow the kids to make the choice to eat or not. And if they choose not to eat, they have to live with the consequences of being hungry. Never, ever offer an alternative. When our kids were younger, I would leave their plate on the bench and 9 times out of 10 it would be finished before bed.
- You may find food is not the problem but how you handle the refusal is the real issue.
- Have set times that the kitchen is open, breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. It helps avoid you being in the kitchen all day but also stops the kids from grazing.
- Offer variety. As a child my dinner plate consisted of a pile of carrots, a pile of broccoli and meat, chicken or fish. The vegies rarely changed and were always cooked in the same way. But by combining a range of vegies with the meat in an interesting, colourful and tasty meal, there will be no complaints. Try Chicken Noodle Salad (my fussy eaters favourite).
- Ask the kids to choose what they would like for dinner. I regularly pass the kids my phone and they search through my Hello TABLE APP to find the dinner they would like. Given everything is healthy, I’m happy with whatever they choose. They are all fast to prepare and I love everything so there is no risk.
- Make it interesting and fun – we regularly have meals where the kids get to use their hands (San Choi Bow, Fajitas, Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls just to name a few). Or make a face on the plate using a range of foods and vegies. I have 2 boys, so the grosser the better. Mayo or sauce was always the snot coming out of the nose. They loved it and be so busy laughing that they didn’t notice what they were eating half the time.
- Changing the environment helps create some fun and interest. Try a picnic on the back lawn with Chicken Noodle Salad in takeaway noodle boxes.
- Kids love to help and they love to be needed (especially boys) and it makes them feel more grown up. Even young children can help prepare food – washing, mixing, crumbing the schnitzel, kneading pizza dough, weighing and measuring ingredients.
- Serve dinner early for small kids otherwise they will get ‘hangry’ and it will be a fight all the way through the meal. Feeding them at the right time (for them) gives you the best chance at a stress free meal.
- Don’t prolong the agony – set a time limit on each meal (maybe 20 – 30 minutes).
- Hiding vegies is a good strategy sometimes when they are going through a difficult phase, but once they have declared how much they love it, break the news to them that is does contain the disliked food. My fussy eater apparently dislikes mushrooms but loves San Choi Bow (with shitake mushrooms ). He once asked what the small bits were and I told him ‘shitake’. I wasn’t lying I just didn’t finish the whole title. Now he has declared his undying love for San Choi Bow, I have come clean and told him shitake are actually mushrooms. There is no going back now, he loves it too much to say he won’t eat it anymore.
- Of course if your child appears to be malnourished you should see a doctor.
So there you have it – a few ideas and strategies to try. They may not all work for you but I’m sure you will have success with a few of them – trial and error.
It will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Now for me when I get asked that inescapable question of ‘what’s for dinner?’, no matter what my reply, his response is always, ‘oh yum, that is my favourite (or second favourite).’ We still have pasta night once a week but that is mainly for my convenience on the busy sports training night.
The bigger problem for me now is he loves my cooking and the variety so much that it isn’t easy to convince them to have a takeaway night (and give me a break). A small, but annoying price to pay for a good eater!
Written by Jodie Blight. After years working as a Company Director in the Finance industry, starting a family and moving half way around the world, Jodie Blight discovered her passion – creating healthy, easy and delicious family meals. In a world first, she developed a free APP to accompany the cookbook – scan the recipes to create a shopping list on your phone with all the items sorted by your supermarket aisle. Preparing family meals could not be easier!
Find out more about this revolutionary cookbook at www.hellotable.com.au