There have been so many articles written about feeding fussy eaters that you might imagine there isn’t much left to say, but the ubiquitous advice that you should make your food animal shaped or hide the vegetables leaves me with so much rage that I feel the need to post!!
I rarely buy magazines but recently treated myself to a copy of this months Easy Food magazine. There was of course a section on feeding fussy eaters, and yet again there it was, the picture of animal shaped sandwiches as a means of getting your child to eat better. I have no idea who peddles this nonsense but they seriously underestimate the intelligence of children. Not only is cutting the sandwich into an animal shape a horrendous waste of good food, I mean what are you meant to do with the rest of the sandwich, it also assumes that you can fool your child into eating something that they don’t want to. Four children later I have learned that it is very hard to fool any child, especially so if they are entrenched in their want to reject something.
I was also a little bit horrified to see Jamie Oliver touting the idea of distraction as a means of getting them to eat, as though shoving an iPad in front of your child while they are eating will result in a less fussy child. Yes, he does say it’s as a kind of last resort, but the path of least resistance is often a one way route and once you head down this road it can be an almighty battle to get back to what’s considered a normal mealtime, so my opinion would be to avoid this at all costs. It doesn’t mean that you will have the type of family meal that you see on those ads for Italian pasta, with children sitting happily at the table, eating their delicious meal with out fuss. But it does meant that some level of this is achievable, and with patience and good example you will get there.
Now for the confession part!
We have had Christmas dinner with a small child sitting on the table for the entire meal.
I have cried at the table more times than I care to imagine.
I have yelled at the kids that there is to be NO MORE TALKING AT THE TABLE UNTIL ALL PLATES ARE CLEAN, not my proudest moment as a mother
BUT… we are getting there and while all four kids won’t eat everything, they will try almost anything and eat a broad range of food.
Here are the tips that I’ve found work best.
* Don’t assume that the 18 month old great-eater will continue to be that way. They are like little birds at that stage, mouths open and happy to be fed. Once they realise that they have some control over what they eat, they are like megalomaniacs and exercise that power at every opportunity, don’t make it a war, believe me, they will win.
* Don’t fuss when they fuss. This is tricky as you want them to eat, but its vital that you stay as calm as possible. Offer them a variety on their plate at meal times and focus on the things that they do eat, not on the things they don’t.
* Encourage and praise them for tasting something, regardless of how small a bit they try. I find that talking to them about what they like about certain food encourages them to think about the food. If they say that they like the sweetness of carrots then ask them would they like to try sweet potatoes as they have a similar taste. It helps them to open their mind to trying something different. Yes certain sauces and soups are vehicles for hidden vegetables but if you pretend the whole time that the veg isn’t there then when presented with the actual vegetable you will have a job to convince them that they like it.
*As soon as they are old enough ( probably from about four onwards) stop filling their plate for them. Put dishes on the table and encourage them to chose how much and what they would like, they will enjoy the sense of ownership over their dinner and are more likely to try more things. My children’s favourite dinner is a ‘snacking dinner’ where lots of different dishes are on the table, a mixture of salad and meats and they get to help themselves.
*The easiest way to get them to try something new is not to offer it to them! Sounds bizzare but often on a Friday night my husband and I will have dinner later than the kids, something that isn’t being dictated by the kid’s taste. Invariably the kids swarm around as soon as we sit to eat and its endless request for ‘just a taste’…only from me though coz Daddy doesn’t share food *eyerolls*
* Don’t give up. For 2 long years our youngest decided he didn’t like the ‘yucky bits’ and further questioning about which bits were the yucky bits, his reply usually was ‘all of it’. Any night that we had chilli, he had a plate of rice. He finally decided he would like to try the sauce and eventually has moved onto to eating a bowl full of chilli with peppers, onions, beans and chickpeas. I never said a word when he refused it and time and curiosity won him round.
* Lastly and this is the most important thing. Children must know that its ok not to like a certain food. Nothing kills an appetite more than the words ‘you have to eat it’. We all have individual tastes and children are no different. Encourage, encourage, encourage but don’t dictate, it sets up negative feeling towards food that are very hard to undo.
So this is how we deal with the terrorists at the table, don’t do battle and definitely don’t negotiate, coz all the best commanders know, you don’t negotiate with terrorists…no matter how cute or adorable they are.