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Jenny's Factsheet: Food Tips For Fussy Eaters

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Some of the challenges parents face with a fussy or picky eater;

  • Not wanting the food to touch the other food
  • Wanting a limited range of food – no desire to try something new
  • Getting up and down from the table – swinging on chairs
  • No manners! Being disrespectful “This looks disgusting!”
  • Wanting to be fed when capable of feeding oneself
  • Wanting the food pureed when no longer a baby
  • Refusing to eat but asking for food once dinner is over
  • Taking forever to eat!

So what is all the fuss about eating? We do worry and work really hard on finding the magic ingredient that makes children love our food and ask for more. Unfortunately, it seems the more effort we put in and the more seriously we take the subject of food, the less our children eat. Let’s take a no fuss look at what might really help in scoring some victories in the food realm with our kids.

  • Offer them limited choices. “Tonight you can choose one green vegetable and two other dishes.”
  • When you dish their meal up, give small portions only. If they are hungry, they can ask for more.
  • Eat together as a family even if you have to give them a pre-dinner snack to tide them over. Children need to be around others to appreciate the talk and atmosphere around food and eating. This is also where they learn about how to use a knife and fork and what manners are all about.
  • Speak positively about food. If your children observe you enjoying food, they are far more likely to feel relaxed and willing to try new foods.
  • Do not use food as a reward or a punishment. This heightens the intensity that a fussy child already feels around food.
  • Have lots of celebrations that include food as well as other enjoyable things like songs, games, special stories, candles and awards.
  • Let them help in the preparation of food. Young children can be given a spoon to help mix, a blunt knife to help cut the soft things and the opportunity to help wash the non-breakables.
  • If your child does not want to eat any more, refrain from bribing, climbing up the wall or threatening. Simply put the food in a nice little dish and offer it to them if they say they are hungry later on.
  • Don’t offer alternatives once you have prepared a meal. This is a really hard one because we desperately want our kids to have a full tummy so they don’t wake in the night. They will not starve so just let it go. It’s amazing how children learn to like new food when nothing else is offered!
  • Show gratitude. Children catch our attitudes and when they hear us say grace before we eat, and thank the person who has made the meal, they are learning to value the incredible blessings we have been given in this country.
  • Make it a Friday night treat to have turns choosing what they would like to have for dinner. (Keep this as a special treat rather than asking every night what they would like for dinner)
  • From time to time, reintroduce a food that they have not liked. It is amazing what can happen second or third time or eighteenth time around!

Research around Family Meals

Eating together as a family has the potential to be one of your best activities and one that reaps some pretty good rewards.

Meal times have got harder to arrange and there are a lot of other pressures insisting on your time and focus. However, there really isn’t much else that can compete in terms of value and benefits. Research from both nutritionists and family life professionals have shown that families, who eat together more than four times a week, reap these benefits;

  • More nutritious meals and knowledge of basic cooking skills
  • Opportunities to practice social skills and table manners
  • Improved family communication
  • A greater sense of community and family values
  • Stronger family traditions

In addition, children who eat regularly at home:

  • Are less likely to smoke, use drugs or alcohol
  • Perform better in school
  • Have a lower rate of teen pregnancy
  • Are less likely to develop weight problems

The university of Michigan research showed family meal time was the single strongest predictor of better achievement scores and fewer behaviour problems.