Periodically, and generally when she's teething or feeling otherwise under the weather, Miss J stops eating all but one thing: mashed potato. She'll drink milk, she'll eat mash, but everything else gets an emphatic, "No!" And once she's got into the habit of saying no, she sticks with it, and it takes a few days, even weeks, to coax her back to more adventurous flavours and a more balanced plate.
Overall, she probably eats well half the time, and mash-only the other half. It could be worse, but it got me thinking, what do the experts recommend to deal with fussy little eaters?
Here's what they said:
- Get the kids involved in the food prep. Even starting with the shopping and giving them limited choices - eg "red cheese or yellow cheese?" - Dr Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and Director, Good Toy Guide
- Increase the number of adults eating with the children at mealtimes. Role models are very powerful. Don't pay too much attention to what the child eats, just have adults eating normally, trying new food and saying why they like/dislike it - Dr Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and Director, Good Toy Guide
- Allow the kids one 'veto'. It's ok to acknowledge/accept that they don't like certain foods, so let them have one veto per meal and then they have to eat whatever else if on their plate - Dr Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and Director, Good Toy Guide
- Minimise choice. With toddlers and older children, avoid open questions like, "What would you like to eat?" as they'll choose what they prefer. Give them a couple of choices to choose from - which will gently nudge them in the direction of different/healthy food choices - Kesh Patel, Nutritionist and Research & Development Manager at Premier Training International
- Keep mealtimes short. Children will get bored quickly, so keeping meal times short and sweet will maintain motivation to eat, and not have to stare at the plate of food any longer than they have to - Kesh Patel, nutritionist and Research & Development Manager at Premier Training International
- Incentivise meal times. Why not provide an incentive to finish a meal? For example, a healthy dessert such as yoghurt, fruit, or family play time, a walk to the park, a bike ride etc - Kesh Patel, nutritionist and Research & Development Manager at Premier Training International
- Encourage variety. Encourage your children to 'try something new' every day to help them get into the right mindset. There are a number of ways to do this, including trying new food with an old favourite, or having themed meals, eg. French food, Indian food, Italian food etc - Kesh Patel, nutritionist and Research & Development Manager at Premier Training International
- Eat as a family. Not only does this create life long good eating habits, it also develops social interaction that will encourage your children to try new foods - Kesh Patel, nutritionist and Research & Development Manager at Premier Training International
- Although it can be difficult when you have a fussy eater, avoid placing too much emphasis on the meal or becoming stressed - the more attention a toddler receives when they don’t eat, the more likely they are to refuse. Stay relaxed and if after 20 minutes the meal is not eaten, clear it away without comment and wait until the next meal or snack to offer more food - Laura Tilt, Registered Dietitian, FitBug
- Don’t react to fussy eating but praise your child whenever they eat well (no matter how small) - Laura Tilt, Registered Dietitian, FitBug
Do you have any tips to add? Let me know in the comments!