8 tips to help your fussy eater
If mealtime at your place is more on the side of chaotic rather than enjoyable, rest assured you are not alone. In fact many Aussie families say getting the family together for a meal is challenging. Here we share 8 tips to help your fussy eater.
One thing a lot of parents talk about is how difficult evening mealtimes can be, especially when their kids are fussy eaters. Getting your kids to sit at the table, eat their vegetables and use a knife and fork is all but a fantasy land for some parents. Not to mention eating out without bribery or devices!
Whilst there is never a one-size-fits-all solution, Heroes Allied Health Occupational Therapist, Dr Ann Kennedy-Behr who has paediatric expertise, suggests the following tips which may be beneficial to help your kids eat the meals prepared and aid developing important social skills.
1. Eat with your children.
Although it can sometimes be hard to juggle the family schedule to get everyone together for mealtime Ann says this is one of the fundamental ways parents can benefit their children. Sharing mealtimes together as a family helps to build that family bond and give children a feeling of belonging and helps to build your relationships. The World Health Organization recommends that in addition to an adequate variety, amount, and frequency of foods, feeding times should be periods of learning and love. Even if you can only manage it one night a week, the benefits are immense.
2. Set an example.
Children learn from what they see around them. Watching their parents eat with a knife and fork at the table and engage in conversation is behaviour they will mimic. Copying parents helps develop skills which will benefit your children when they are adults.
3. Involve the kids in meal preparation.
Kids often feel more interested in eating what’s on their plate if they have been part of preparing it. It doesn’t have to be complex – maybe just a small task like buttering the bread, grating the cheese or stirring the sauce. Ann explains that being involved in the meal preparation instils a sense of pride in what they have helped create which they will likely then want to eat.
4. Don’t use food as a reward.
Whilst it can be tempting to resort to bribery to get your kids to eat their vegetables or tidy their bedroom Ann says this is a big no-no as it can lead to unintended consequence and power games. “Kids learn pretty fast, and it doesn’t take long for them to work out if they complain or refuse to do what you want, you will bribe them with a reward.” explains parents should encourage children to eat because they are hungry, not because they will get a reward.
5. Don’t pressure children to eat or make them finish what is on their plate.
Pressuring children to finish what is on their plate encourages them to eat even if they are not hungry. This can lead to weight issues or unknowingly associating food with fear which could turn your child off particular foods. For those parents who have resorted to the “You’re not leaving the table unless you finish everything on your plate” will know it’s a no-win situation. Usually the child’s patience and resilience holds out much longer than the parents.
6. Turn off the TV.
Even on silent, the television can be a powerful distraction. Try turning it off even for just 15 minutes. Adults can get distracted too! Children forget about what they are eating, how they are eating and social engagement that comes at mealtime.
7. Put the devices away.
When dining out, instead of taking devices take a pack of cards or a game such as a quiz to encourage interaction. This demonstrates to children that mealtime is for engagement, not distraction.
8. Be brave!
When was the last time you tried a completely new food? Show your kids that you are game to try new foods too. It can be helpful to model different reactions to the new taste, for example “that’s different” or “I wasn’t expecting that” or “mmmm” or even “I don’t like it, but now I know how it tastes”. This shows your child that we all have different reactions to food and not all of us like all flavours.
“Food is about satisfying hunger whereas meals are about spending time together,” says Ann. “All across the globe people have been coming together to share a meal and conversation around a table since the beginning of time. It’s where we build relationships and create connections.”
Recognising that mealtimes are much more than just the nutrition provided by food can aid in making dinner time a little less chaotic in your household.
Want to know more? See the academic research written by Ann Kennedy-Behr here https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/17/9067
Ann is an occupational therapist with Heroes Allied Health and has worked in field for almost 30 years, and has over 15 years of experience working with children and their families. Ann is also a researcher and has written or contributed to numerous academic papers, adding to the body of scientific knowledge regarding best practice.