Having a fussy eater in the house can affect the whole family and be an emotional issue for everyone. It’s easy for others to tell you not to stress and that it will pass but living with a fussy eater is no walk in the park.
While children’s tastes differ from adults and fussy eating will most likely NOT last forever, a study at Duke University https://www.dukeeatingdisorders.com/m-e-d-i-a
Suggests that fussy eating may be an indicator of anxiety, depression and other social issues later in life.
My own experience with fussy eating came when my son turned 2, which is the age psychologists suggest the neo-phobic (fear of new things) stage can take hold until around the age of 6 or 7 years. My son also had dreadful eczema and I decided to put him on the GAPS diet, which ended up helping enormously. It was a strict diet eliminating many foods initially. My son wasn’t terribly impressed with being offered chicken and lamb stew for breakfast, lunch and dinner but when he was hungry enough, he ate them and I have to say he’s been an awesome eater ever since. He was on the path of refusing everything except dried fruit and yoghurt so I believe GAPS benefitted his eczema AND his fussy eating.
My experience with GAPS will be the subject of another post but for now, here are my top tips for avoiding fussy eating.
- Don’t assume that your baby/toddler or child dislikes a food because they spit it out once or twice. Experts say that it can take between 10-20 exposures to a food before a child will accept it. Persist with offering but don’t force them to try it or to finish it.
- Don’t offer ‘easy’ alternatives to family meals like yoghurt or crackers for fear your child will starve. Serve a family meal but allow choices (within reason) to suit individual tastes. For instance, offer tomato OR olives, OR both, or allow the choice of condiments to give them some sense of control over what they are eating. Allow them choices within your parameters.
- Don’t bribe or threaten. Try to avoid strong emotions around food. I’ve always given my kids the choice of whether to finish their meal or not but the rule in my house has been that those who don’t finish (within reason or unless completely full) don’t eat dessert. There is never anger or pushing them to finish so they get the dessert, it’s completely their ‘choice’ to finish and eat dessert or to not finish and not eat dessert. (this may be low level bribery but as dessert is usually berries, yoghurt or a square of raw chocolate, it hasn’t seemed that brutal and has worked well in our house)!
- Don’t buy what you don’t want them to eat. When I hear mamas cry, ‘he/she will only eat sweet biscuits’, I think, ‘why are there sweet biscuits being offered?’ If you offer junk food, they’ll learn to prefer junk food. If it’s not in the house, they won’t be able to work on you for it and YOU won’t be tempted to eat junk either!
- Get toddlers and children involved in meal preparation. Just giving them a bowl to mix some salad leaves, an avocado to cut up, jobs to fetch items from the fridge or pantry will help them feel involved and get them feeling and touching wholefoods. Kids love to have tasks to complete and love to feel helpful. If I am in a mad rush to get a meal prepared, I have given my kids a small bowl of random ingredients to mix to keep them busy which has worked to keep them entertained and me able to prepare without fingers grabbing at the real meal. Growing herbs or fruit and vegetables is an even better way to get them keen on wholesome foods.
- Limit snacks between meals especially packaged and processed foods. If kids are filling up on less nutritious, ‘fake’ foods between meals they will be less likely to have an appetite for the meal you want them to eat. Offer snacks like fruits and vegetable sticks with some cheese or nuts to keep them satisfied.
- Guide them from an early age to be aware of how different foods make them feel. After take away meals my kids know they’ll be very thirsty due to the high salt content. After a good breakfast they know they have more energy than if they hadn’t eaten well. They are also starting to admit that they also feel pretty wired after birthday parties too! It’s not about judging the food eaten just acknowledging how certain foods make them feel so as they get older food is about making themselves feel great.
- Allow them to go through their own stages of liking and disliking foods, as there may be reasons they go off a particular taste or texture. My daughter LOVED olives at 2 then disliked them for about 4 years but eats them again now. She’s just decided she can’t handle the texture of avocado so I put it in salads where it’s less obvious but don’t give it to her on its own. My son doesn’t like tomato and because it’s a nightshade, which is not beneficial to those who are prone to eczema, I don’t push him to eat it. Even though he has no signs of eczema now I figure it just may not agree with his body. Teaching them awareness of how foods make them feel will help them explain why a certain food does or doesn’t agree with them.
- Finally, kids thrive on routine and love meal times. If they become accustomed to sharing a nourishing family meal every day this will become an important part of their life growing up and will be part of their life even after they leave your home. Keep meal times relaxed and don’t intently watch your child eating.
Both of my kids are used to receiving half of their plate full of veggies at our nighttime meal so various friends and family have witnessed comments like, ‘where are the veggies?’ or ‘there aren’t enough veggies tonight’ or ‘I need more salad on my plate, mum’. They may sound strange, and I’m not trying to show off! It’s just to show that they really do learn from routine so consistency is going to pay off. Keep up the great work you do as a mama. I know feeding a family is often relentless and tedious but it’s such an important start for your kids.
“The food you eat can either be the safest and powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison”. Ann Wigmore
I hope these tips can help you turn a fussy eater into an eating machine with a huge appetite for nourishing and wholesome foods!