Meal times can be stressful for young families with kids often developing food fads and fussy eating patterns.
Adequate nutrition and healthy eating habits are vital for the growth and development of children. As a parent, if you can instill healthy habits from an early age it increases the likelihood that your child carry appropriate eating habits through adolescence and into adulthood.
Here are a few strategies that parents can adopt to help manage a fussy eater and make mealtimes a little less stressful.
1. Offer a variety of foods for your child to choose on their plate.
This will give your child the freedom to choose the foods that they eat (within reason). Often kids will develop fads where they want to eat the same thing every night. As frustrating as this can be for parents the fads will generally pass and change within a few weeks.
2. Choose iron rich foods.
If your child is a fussy eater, the most common nutritional deficiency that may develop is an iron deficiency. For this reason, it is important to include iron-rich foods with meals such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs or legumes.
3. Make eating fun.
Use dips and sauces to make a meal a bit more fun to eat. A kid is much more likely to eat carrot or celery sticks if they have a tasty dip alongside to have some fun with. Cutting sandwiches, pizzas and meats into fun shapes can also make food more interesting for the little ones.
4. Involve your child in food preparation.
When preparing meals, let your little ones help with some basic tasks. Tearing lettuce, washing vegies, and sprinkling grated cheese can all be great ways to get the kids involved. It can also be a good to teach the kids how to make their own snacks (with a bit of supervision). Making banana sandwiches, spreading peanut butter on to rice cakes are all easy tasks that kids can quickly learn.
5. Fruit is king.
Instead of serving up chocolate or biscuits as snacks swap them out for pieces of fruit. Kids love the sweetness and freshness of fruit and it is packed with healthy nutrients compared to chocolate and biscuits which contain lots of energy and very few micronutrients.
6. Don't offer dessert as a reward.
This is a really common trap that parents fall in to as they attempt to bribe their way through a fussy child's meal. Using dessert as a reward overemphasizes the least healthy part of the meal. The focus needs to be on the main meal. If your child refuses to eat their meal it is important not to give in and offer alternative foods or snacks. Stay composed and in control.
7. Don't punish.
Instead of punishing your kid for not eating all of their food or a part of their meal, shift your focus to congratulating them on the things that have eaten. Keep it positive.
Fussy eating is normal for young ones and should not be a major concern unless your child is losing weight or doesn't seem to be growing at the expected rate. If you are strong concerns it can be a good idea to make a food diary to record all the food and drink consumed over a couple of days. Once you have it down on paper, you can run your concerns by your child health nurse or doctor.