There’s nothing quite like the feeling of satisfaction when your little one eats up a delicious healthy dish you have lovingly prepared for them. We all relish them eating nourishing food that will support their growth and development, but just as often, our beloved young eaters may willfully reject that delicious, nutritious dish we’ve painstakingly prepared.
It can be frustrating and exasperating, but it’s not uncommon. Here are a few simple tips to surviving those inevitable moments of fussy eating.
Mealtimes fraught with stress and tense negotiations between you and your child aren’t good for anyone. They can lead to negative feelings towards food and eating together for both of you. It’s natural to feel extremely invested in the food that you have prepared, not to mention your child’s health and wellbeing, and it can be frustrating when they refuse to eat something, or even taste it. We still have a lot to learn about the ‘whys’ of fussy eating from a child’s perspective, but whatever their reasons for refusing a food or not liking it, there may be nothing we can do about it in the moment except take a deep breath and move on. Making our children feel guilty, bribing them with “fun” food as a reward for eating “healthy” food only sends the wrong messages and makes things worse. Our job as parents is to impart the joy and empowerment in cultivating, preparing and eating food, but there may be times when, from our child’s perspective, we miss the mark. And it’s OK! Just do your best to keep things fun and light. When you are more relaxed around mealtimes your child will be too, so take care of yourself.
Take the long view
Sometimes we just need a little perspective. Your child has a lifetime of eating ahead of them and countless opportunities to experience food, multiple times each day. So lunch was an epic fail? Move on, and prepare your child a healthy snack in a couple of hours. Feel like when it comes to eating it’s just been one of those days? Zoom out and think about what your child has eaten over the course of a week and it may provide some solace. Resist the urge to label your child a “fussy eater”. No one likes to be labeled and your child’s tastes, palate, and experiences of food are constantly shifting and evolving. Things can – and will – change. It can take many exposures to a particular type of food to develop a taste for it. Children can be especially sensitive to new smells and textures so experiment with different preparations of a particular food until you find something everyone likes. Try lovely, healthy sweet potato, for example, three ways:
Lead by example
The old adage that actions speak louder than words cannot be more true when it comes to eating. Your children observe your every move and if you’re asking them to finish their broccoli while munching on crisps, well, that just won’t fly, will it? Teaching your child to enjoy and appreciate food will be one of the most important things that you as a parent will impart.
Nurturing an appreciation and enjoyment of wholesome food in your child can take many forms. It can be a fun visit to a farm, or greengrocer. Admiring together the colours and textures of whole fruits and vegetables. Including your child in the preparation of a meal is a great way to engage their curiosity and sense of belonging in the family rituals around food. When you’re eating something that you enjoy, adding a few extra “yumms”, “mmmms” or “delicious!” for effect can signal to your child the joy of creating and eating delicious and healthy food. For a little inspiration, try some colourful veggie kebabs, this super simple Turkish-style couscous, or this outrageously flavoursome vegan shepherd’s pie!
What has helped you survive fussy eating moments with your children? Leave a comment below!