Getting fussy eaters to eat! What to think about

Getting fussy eaters to eat!

Getting kids to eat is one of the common concerns of all parents. Whether your children avoid anything green, don’t like certain fruits or flat out refuse to eat anything outside of their limited range, it seems that fussy eating is escalating. And parents are pulling their hair out getting their kids to eat. But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be that way?

And that the problem might start with you?

WHAT????? If you’re hitting up the farmers market at sunrise on the weekend, cooking clean treats for lunch boxes and poring over recipes books to find that one meal your kids will actually eat without fuss, my comment above might be a blow to the gut.

But think about this when it comes to your fussy eaters:

  •  Are there particular foods that you avoid eating, or foods you have ‘hated’ since childhood?
  • Do you start sentences with “I shouldn’t eat this” or “that’s so bad” or “I feel so terrible since I ate XYZ”
  • If the kids don’t eat dinner, do you make them something else to ensure their tummies are full before bed?
  • Do you make deals (bribes!) that they can have a reward or dessert if they eat their meal?
  • Do you subscribe to the “eat everything on your plate” rule?

All of these approaches can create fussy eaters. And it all starts with you.

Think back to when you were a child – there were probably foods you hated or had to be ‘forced’ to eat. That formed your attitude towards that food, and if you’ve never explored outside your comfort zone, you might still think you ‘hate’ the food. But if you actually tried it now as an adult with a broader palate and in a new twist, you might love it. Olives, feta, capers, seafood and chilli are all acquired tastes – it can take more than one panicked taste-test to find your love for new flavours. The same applies with your kids. If at first you don’t succeed, try again! And if you offer treats for eating their dinner, you’re implying that the nutritious stuff is challenging, hard work or just plain yuck and needs to be rewarded for the simple act of eating. The same applies for making multiple meals. I’ll let you in on a secret – kids will eat if they are hungry. They won’t go to bed hungry . . . for long. One night without dinner could be enough for them to see you are serious about the ‘eat your dinner or get nothing else’ rule. We have always had this rule in our house – you don’t have to eat everything on your plate, and you don’t have to like it, but if you choose not to eat you get nothing else and you have to remain at the table with the rest of the family. You’ll be amazed how much even defiant children will nibble at when they realise there is no ‘get out of jail free’ card on offer. If fussy eaters are ruling your kitchen (and driving you crazy!) try my tricks and let me know how you go!    

Fussy Eaters 101

1. New rules: Only make one meal, don’t make quasi-meals (ever dished up Vegemite toast in lieu of dinner because they just. won’t. eat? Stop that now.), eat as a family and you don’t leave the table if you choose not to eat. 2. Get the kids involved in cooking. Research shows kids are more likely to eat food they have helped to prepare – from growing herbs on the windowsill to veggies in the backyard to choosing a dish to make with you, the opportunities to expand your kids’ love of food are endless. 3. Hide ‘n’ seek – hide the veggies! Blend greens into soups, add extra diced veggies to pasta sauce and mash cauliflower florets into mashed potato! 4. Make it interesting – who said a meal had to be served on a plate at the dinner table? For little ones, placing different foods and textures like cheese cubes, carrot sticks, berries and crackers in a bento box or muffin tray and serving it al fresco for a sunset picnic can be absolute heaven. For bigger kids, pack a BBQ chicken, some fresh wholemeal rolls, salad and fruit in a backpack, grab the bikes and head to the beach for dinner. And for family mealtimes, a progressive three-course meal where one child has a hand in each dish can make for laughs AND full bellies.  

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