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“If you don’t eat your meat, you won’t get any pudding”, might have worked for Pink Floyd, but if your child is a fussy eater, you’ll know [stubborn face] when you see it!
My daughter has always liked “healthy” food – muesli, yoghurt, fruit. She would ask for green beans for lunch in nursery, and is now 13 years old and a full vegetarian. My son will not eat vegetables. He sometimes eats carrots, but that is about it.
He would eat a whole plate of meat and no sides. Pasta is a favourite but he won’t eat rice or potatoes – even roast potatoes. (They are just thick CHIPS, I have been known to mutter as he pushes them to the side of his plate.
So like Jack Spratt and his wife, the children share the food. He eats the meat, she eats the veg and potatoes or rice. Together they are having a balanced meal, I guess, but what to do with fussy eaters?
No Bad Food / Good Food
Stop thinking about nutrients and separating food into good and bad. There is no bad food in a healthy balanced diet. There is just good balance or bad balance. Particularly in the adolescent years, avoid talking about good/bad food or feeing ‘guilty’ about eating something. The rise in eating disorders in the past decade is worrying – you don’t need to add to the pressures that your kids are getting out of the home.
Keep a Food Diary
Then write down what your child eats. You may *think* that he eats almost nothing, but when you look closer you will find that it is not that bad. It goes without saying that you should do this without them noticing (see above!)
If you are worried your child is not eating enough, then consider whether you are giving him appropriate portion sizes. My paediatrician said to serve each food item in portions as big as your child’s clenched fist. They have smaller stomachs than we do and we often put much too large a portion on their plate, then get cross when they don’t finish their meal.
Cut Down on Snacking
Cut out snacks between meals, so that when you sit down to eat, your child is really hungry. Make mealtimes a time to sit together and chat about your day. Not possible perhaps for every meal, but try and do this at least once a day.
Try New Things
Keep trying new things, in different combinations – my son will not eat carrots, but will eat glazed carrots. If they like mashed potatoes, try mashed potatoes with squash or pumpkin (see also stealth veg, below).
Some kids like the taste but not the texture of the food, so try different variations of food. Fried or mashed, boiled or steamed. With and without butter, herbs and spices. Many children like plain food, so don’t worry if they will only eat pasta without sauce. Let them grate their own parmesan onto the top of the pasta – kids love doing that.
Get Them Involved
We have agreed that the children will cook for us once a week and they enjoy choosing which meal to make. They also love when we make things that they can put together themselves. I toast bagels, offer a variety of fillings – home made chicken nuggets, scrambled egg, beef, with salad and tomatoes, various sauces and ketchups, and serve everything on platters. The kids can help themselves to whatever they want. Another favourite is fajitas (called fat-eaters in our house!).
Hide those suckers everywhere. My kids love soup, so I make a big pot of soup with lots of vegetables, puree and freeze portions. I chop courgettes into tiny pieces and sneak it into bolognese sauce. If they are good at sniffing it out, try liquidising the sauce, they will never notice it.
Don’t Offer Alternatives
I am not talking about the old adage, that if you don’t give in, the child will eventually eat. That may work for mildly fussy kids, but for the true Fussy Fussy McFussy, it is not going to cut the mustard. Don’t give in and get the child a burger or fry some chips, but do make sure there is something on the table that your child normally likes. And if he truly refuses everything, then he gets a yoghurt or a sandwich not a treat. You want to avoid the situation where you are cooking 3 meals for 4 people!
Saying that, I still offer dessert if the child has not eaten the main course. That may be seen as being inconsistent, but I cannot see how you could let a child watch the rest of the family eating ice cream and tell him that unless he eats his cold and congealing main course, that he cannot have it. Don’t use this as a threat or a reward.
Don’t Make a Fuss about Fussy Eaters
The more fuss you make about eating, the more fussy they get. If your child is a fussy eater, it is easy to get worried about what they are eating and to get obsessed that they are not getting enough “good food”. Don’t turn mealtimes into a battle field, with General Mum controlling how many forkfuls of potatoes have been eaten.
Some children like to separate their food, and don’t want the sauce mixed with the pasta for example. And God forbid you get some gravy on the potatoes, you bad bad mother. Particularly toddlers can get upset about his kind of thing. Don’t fuss about it, as long as they are eating, it really doesn’t matter.
Above all, try to remain calm even when inside your head you are screaming, “Just eat the bloody broccoli so that I don’t have to worry you will get fecking rickets or scurvy”. Don’t turn meals into a battle field.
What are your tricks to get your kids to eat? Join in the discussion on our Facebook Group.