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Pleasing Fussy Eaters – A Challenge for all Parents

Every mealtime is a challenge. You take the time to prepare and cook something new and delicious, only to have your children in tears because they don’t want it. They arch their back and shake their head and won’t even take one bite. You are left feeling frustrated and defeated. You end up cooking the same thing time and time again (the things you know they will eat) just to get food into their bellies, but then you worry they are not getting all the nutrients they need. Mummy guilt kicks in once again.

Step back a moment and remember that you’re doing the best you can as a parent. You’re definitely not alone when it comes to fussy eaters. Mums around the world suffer the same problem.

We spoke to Hanan Saleh, the Director of The Food Expert, to help us overcome these ‘fussy eater’ issues and help shift the whole household’s attitude to eating into a more positive one.

Why kids can be fussy eaters

Toddlers want to gain some control and food is the first way to do that. They find saying no invigorating. After all, it gets parents to play the aeroplane game and sing songs while they eat. This all turns into a game – a way to have fun every moment of the day. It becomes tiring to you, especially as you focus on getting nutritious food into your child’s diet.

They could also be overtired, sick, over-stimulated, too full from milk, water or too many snacks – you need to assess the day and see what other factors could be at play.

Exploring new tastes, flavours and textures

Children go through phases. They love something one week and then decide they don’t like it the next. Just because they don’t want something right now doesn’t mean they won’t be interested later. Experts suggest giving a child the same food up to 20 times before giving up because children need to get used to the smell, texture, and taste of new foods. With that amount of attempts, it’s easy to see why parents just give up!

You need to be positive about food & be a good role model

If you choose not to eat something in front of your child, they will follow suit. There must be a reason you don’t like it, right? It’s up to you to be a good role model for your children. Put a variety of foods on your own plate and they’ll see that there’s nothing wrong with trying new things. Show them that vegetables are just as yummy as chocolate and they’ll try it first.

How to help your fussy eater

1.     Eat with your child! You’re their best role model.
2.     Start with small servings of a new food alongside food that they love. Don’t make a point that it’s new. Let them explore for themselves.
3.     Only do one new thing at a time to give them chance to explore. Too much at once can be overwhelming.
4.     Encourage them to touch and smell first if they’re not interested in tasting. Give them the chance to get used to texture and scent first.
5.     Let your children try something new in the supermarket or at the farmer’s market. It becomes a fun activity and they’re more likely to try the item they’ve been allowed to pick it.
6.     Try serving in different ways. Some children prefer to try food raw while others want it mashed. You can even display it in a pretty pattern or a smiley face to encourage the play part of tasting.
7.     Keep afternoon snacks small, or better yet – don’t let them snack at all. Keep them hungry for meal times. They’re more likely to eat when they’re hungry.
8.     Talk about food and nutrition. Share how food gives them energy for playing and makes them like their favourite TV character. Some parents have even resorted to calling their food names after characters, like fairy potions and superman juice just to get their kids to try them.

Don’t forget about these few elements

1.     Some fussy eaters may have an underlying condition. If you are concerned about this, do speak to a professional. You will be able to get more specific help to deal with the underlying condition.
2.     Could your child be intolerant of a certain type of food? It may not be that your child dislikes the actual food but the way they feel afterwards. Children understand that certain types of food will make them feel sick or give them tummy aches, so they avoid them in the future. They just can’t always tell you.
3.     Children don’t always like the texture or colour of food. This could be a sensory issue that you’ll want to consider.
4.     Keep a food diary for your children. Make a note of the types of foods your children like and the way they like the foods cooked. You’ll find creating new dishes and getting more nutrients into the diet is easier. A professional can also help with this.