Do you have a fussy eater in your household?
Is dinner time a battle ground?
Do you worry about your child’s limited diet?
Mealtimes can be a massive battle ground between a fussy eater and their carers, but it doesn’t have to always be that way.
So how can we tackle the problem of the fussy/faddy eater?
I’ve put together some ideas for fun tasks, and tweaks to normal everyday family life. Have a read and maybe try one per week. Changes in behaviour take time, but it’s so worth it to see and experience the changes when they do.
Before we begin, the precursor to this journey has to be to forget about mealtime battles. When you start to relax your child will too and then you can start to have some fun.
Give them some choice – Once a week, have a ‘bits ‘n’ bobs’ taster session.
Put a range of different foods out on the table and have fun trying different foods – this can also help with emptying the fridge of leftovers on the day before your weekly shop.
Dips and dippers are an excellent start to this.
You could try the blindfold game where one person is blindfolded and they have to guess the food they are tasting.
A cheese board is another great way to start experimenting with different foods.
Alternatively, sometimes if I am introducing a new meal that I think my children will be apprehensive about I make a safe option to go alongside it. I then allow my children to fill up on the safe option whilst having a taste of the more exotic option. This is not a practical option every day of the week, but once in a while it is fantastic for your child to see you try something new, and to give them the choice to try it without the pressure to eat a whole plateful of the new food.
- Talk about food – Start a dialogue around food at the dinner table.
Encourage your child to describe the food they eat. Ban words such as nice / nasty / yuk and yummy when describing foods. Encourage sensory adjectives that describe texture, flavour and smell instead.
This not only helps to broaden their vocabulary, but gives them a new way of expressing how they feel about food rather than the all too familiar “I don’t like it”. They will start to be able to explain why they don’t like the food which may give you a greater understanding of their perceptions and preferences.
You can find some sensory vocabulary lists (here) . These are very useful as a way of helping your child to choose the right words to describe a food.A fun way to kick start the use of sensory vocabulary is to play the game where you have to describe a food to others without mentioning it’s name. You could even challenge them not to mention colour or shape. and rely on textures, flavours and aromas instead. For example. This food is crackly, salty and light as a feather. It does not grow on land, it is not an animal. Can you guess what it is? Guesses welcome in the comments below.
Remember that children have a different palette to ours.
Some children are very sensitive to strong flavours and literally can’t handle the sensory overload.
The ‘talk about it’ tip above will help you to understand what it is that they struggle with exactly and you can then work on introducing flavours and textures that start very mild and build up.
Remember that your child’s palette will change over time so give them plenty of
non-confrontational opportunities to try a tiny taste of something new, they may surprise themselves. An example of this might be curry. I always serve a bowl of natural yogurt with curry and my children help themselves to as much or as little as they need and stir it into their curry to reduce the spiciness of the curry. In my opinion the curry is not that spicy to start with, but to their taste buds it is.
Allow your child to eat with more than just their mouth – never underestimate the novelty factor!
The saying is true, we do eat with our eyes, even as adults. So it is useful to remember that it may be down to something as simple as the appearance that prevents your child from even trying a food. Once in a while (not at every single meal) have a bit of fun with appearance – make a picture on the plate with food- get your child to join in.
There are loads of lovely ideas here that I’ve collected together on a Pinterest board for you to see.
Another lovely idea to try is allowing your child to have a special plate – one that they have chosen themselves. Jane Fox of Created 4 U (a pottery painting shop and personalised online pottery service) says;
I find when kids paint a personalised plate they are happy to eat off it all the time. My customer mums tell me all the time – if they’d realised a plate which the child painted with their name on made them happily eat pretty much anything, they would have come to the studio sooner
In fact Jane and I are running a competition to win a plate that has been personalised with your child’s own drawing. You can enter here.
Get your child involved.
Get your child involved in the preparation. I have developed a kitchen helper checklist of age appropriate tasks if you’d like one, click here.
As a cookery teacher of children of all ages, I have to say that simply preparing a meal for someone else has a massive effect on the fussy eater. I’ve lost count of the amount of times a parent of a fussy eater has said to me that since attending my cookery lessons their child has begun to relax around food and ask to try new foods – result!
Look through recipe books together and talk about the foods. Get them to choose a few meals they would like to help make. Involve them in shopping for the food and preparing it. Give it a name – Tom’s fish pie.
My children used to adore a game whereby they would write a menu for the meal I was preparing. They wrote place settings and seated ‘guests’ and took drinks orders. They would offer a choice of desserts and take orders for that as well. It was a way of them feeling that they had control over the meal, and it gave them some insight into what was coming.
The onus of ‘will they eat it or won’t they’ was off and they could just enjoy the role play.
Remove the pressure – but don’t give up
When your fussy eater senses that you are more relaxed about their food intake then they will relax too.
Allow them a sense of control over food – let them serve themselves, choose ingredients, prepare them, experiment with them.
Keep talking about food and building that dialogue using sensory vocabulary.
Make a deal with yourself to back off a bit. Make all interactions with food as relaxed and fun as possible and encourage and celebrate trying foods but never pressurise or create a battle.
I hope that some of what I have said has inspired you to try something new at meal times. May this be the beginning of a family love affair with food and many enjoyable experiences for every member of the family.
I have collected some resources for you to use including some sensory vocabulary flash cards that you can make use of. They can be found here
Please do comment below with any tips or ideas you’d like to share with others.