It isn’t uncommon or unnatural for young children to go through a stage of not wanting to try new foods, being very selective in what they do eat, or barely eating anything at all. In fact it is actually a very common stage of natural child development, seen in around 90% of children, whereby they will study, accept or reject different textures, tastes, colours and smells of foods. These stages can be lengthy, and may seem to last a lifetime for the frustrated parent, when nothing seems to work.
Nevertheless, the way in which the adult reacts in these situations is hugely impacting upon how a child’s eating habits will pan out. These tips and techniques are designed to give you some ideas which can help make life at home with your fussy eater and little less fussy and a lot easier!
Ignore that bad, praise the good:
Despite the fact it may seem more natural and common to get frustrated and to show this in your behaviours and actions, it is more detrimental to a children eating habits to do so. Try and disguise the frustration, by learning to ignore the negative behaviour your child displays and simply praise the positive.
Children (regardless of age!) are very clever little creatures, and in life simply want to have parental attention. They will quickly learn that if they react negatively to food and mum or dad gives them a reaction (be it negative) they will keep doing it, as it means they have their parents’ attention. Similarly, if they learn that negative behaviour warrants no response from their parent, and only positive behaviour leads to attention, they will learn to display the positive behaviour to get the attention. Reinforcing these actions to a child, that they are praised for doing good, will in turn will lead to continued positive behaviour At meal times, this can simply be hugs and smiles, with praise and ‘well dones’. Tell them you are proud they are trying new goods, and remember, only praise and react to the positive.
It always amazes me how children seem to do anything for a sticker. Reward systems work wonders for children to try new foods and favours. Make a simple seven day wall chart with the days of the week down the side, and the food or meal time related behaviour you wish them to perform down the other. Each day if they try the food, allow them to place a sticker in the place, and at the end of the week, if they have achieved their goal, treat them to something that they would like. This could be a book, an outing, a picnic etc. When children know that they are going to be treated or rewarded for their good behaviour, they are more likely to stick to it. Keep the reward chart somewhere they can see too, as the visual aid makes it easier to remember.
Making meal time fun
Appreciating the busy natures of working mothers and fathers lives, sitting down where possible, to enjoy meal time together, can be a very effective tool to encourage good meal time manners, and to eat more varied food. When families sit together, there is less emphasis on what is on the plate, and more emphasis on chatting as a family, and enjoying one anothers company. This takes pressure off the fussy eater, as the focus and attention isn’t on them and their plate.
Make meal time colourful
Just like an adult, we only want to eat food that looks good. If we were handed a plate of food at a restaurant, simply piled together, looking untidy, we would have our reservations. The same goes for children. What food looks like (and smells like) are the senses first exposed when food is given, so making it look presentable and appealing is key. If your child is at a particular stage where they are really into a certain TV character, an animal, a shape, try and adapt foods to incorporate this. Use cutters to make sandwiches into nice shapes, use the colours of the rainbow to make food more colourful, and break the plate into mini bite size potions to make the meal less daunting. Presenting the plate in a way in which a child can use their imagination to think up all possible exiting stories makes meal time a pleasant and happy experience.
Experiment with taste testing
These days, supermarkets are full of different versions of the same product. Take apples for example. From red, pink and green apples, to apple juice and dried apple, there are many a way to incorporate it into your diet. Try taste testing a few different variations of the same ingredient, and see whether your child enjoys one more than the other. This was recently experienced with a child trying cranberries. Not keen on dried cranberries, the child LOVED his cranberry juice. Children have to start somewhere!
Eating habits and taste are formed from an early age, so try to provide a varied colourful and versatile diet as young as possible. Celebrate meal time and eating, to be a fun and informal occasion. Remember to reward the good behaviours and ignore the bad. It may be a slow and frustrating start, but give it time, and it has shown to be an effective tool for behaviour change.
All children will be different, and it may amaze you as to the varied foods they will start to like and eat, given the opportunity and fun environment in which you do so.
Tummytastic classes are your new healthy cooking class aimed at pre-schoolers in the Bucks and Herts area. The emphasis on these classes are to encourage an increase in your 5- a day through healthy cooking and baking, along with trying new foods and flavours through food related activities
With her background in Health Psychology and Lifestyle Management, Jess Waterman from Tummytastic shares her tips and techniques which aim to reduce fussy eating, and make meal time fun.
For more info on classes, times, and what we do, visit www.tummytastic.com or contact Jess Waterman on 07764613220 or email email@example.com.