By Paediatric Dietitian, Melinda Braithwaite
Are you struggling with a fussy eater and finding it hard to get your child eating new foods? You are not alone! Fussy eating is extremely common especially during the toddler and preschool years. Whilst fussy eating is a normal part of child development it can be extremely stressful to manage and can leave you feeling concerned that your child is not getting the nutrition they need to grow and be healthy. Below are 7 of my favourite tips to help minimise fussy eating and get children eating new foods.
1. Understand your role and your child’s role
When it comes to feeding following the ‘Division of Responsibility’ encourages more positive eating behaviours and can significantly reduce mealtime stress. As a parent your role is to choose what foods are provided, when they are provided and where they are provided. Your child’s role is to decide whether to eat the foods provided and how much to eat. If you are providing a non-preferred food serve a small amount alongside a preferred food. At The Hive they provide a range of health and nutritionally balanced foods to help parents widen their options when it comes to meal time and also encourage diverse meals from different cultural backgrounds.
2. Enjoy mealtimes together
Eating together with your child and being a positive role model is important when it comes to getting them eating more variety. Children learn through role-modelling and are much more likely to try a new food if they are familiar with the food and have seen you eating it first. Research has shown that children who eat as a family have a more nutritionally balanced diet including increased intake of vegetables and fruit, more food enjoyment and less fussy eating. While your child is at day care they eat their meals together to help them understand it is time to eat. Additionally, when children see peers eating food, they are more likely to eat – monkey see, monkey do!
3. Create a meal and snack routine
To avoid your child grazing and filling up between meals on preferred foods it is important to set boundaries around when foods will be provided. As children do have smaller tummies, I recommend either a meal or snack approximately every 2-3 hours. Setting a routine in place also helps your child learn what to expect at mealtimes and helps to reduce anxiety around food. At The Hive ELC we serve breakfast roughly at 7.30am, 9am is morning tea, 11.30am is lunch time and afternoon tea is served around 2-2.30pm. For those children that leave later in the day we have a late afternoon snack at around 5pm. These time guides help ensure the children are prepared for a snack or meal.
4. Avoid being a personal chef
This one can be very challenging, but it is important not to turn into your child’s personal chef preparing multiple different meals and running off to make another option when they do not eat what is on offer. My advice for parents is to always ensure that they provide one food in the meal that they know their child will eat. If you have provided a safe food for them to eat, then your job is done. It is then up to your child whether to eat or not.
5. Embrace the mess and make food fun!
It is important to allow your child to get messy and play with their food. Children learn through play and for them to be comfortable trying a new food they often first need to experience what it feels like to touch. Once they are comfortable with what if feels like to touch encourage them to have a smell, take a lick and if ready take a small bite. It can also help to present food in fun ways which makes it more appealing to little eyes and get them involved in food art activities such as stamping with vegetables and fruits, finger painting in purees or building a picture or object with food.
6. Get your child involved whether that be with meal planning, shopping or cooking
To help your child become a more adventurous eater it is important to get them involved with activities such as meal planning, shopping and cooking. When meal planning provide your child with a couple of options and get them to choose one option. Take your child to the supermarket or local farmers market and get them to choose a new fruit or vegetable they make like to try and lastly get them in the kitchen. It is never too early to get kids in the kitchen as even toddlers can help with basic tasks such as washing produce, tearing lettuce leaves for a salad, taking peas out of pods and pouring and mixing ingredients. The Hive ELC constantly uses food in our play and activities to encourage the children. We support children to participate in our centre garden where they learn about vegetables and follow our garden growing and then being part of our plate!
7. Exposure, exposure, exposure
One of the biggest mistakes I see when it comes to feeding is not reoffering foods when they have been refused. We know from research that it can take 15 or more times of being exposed to a new food before it is accepted. It does take patience, but it is so important to stay calm and just keep offering a small amount of non-preferred foods alongside preferred foods without pressure to eat.
When should you seek help for your child’s fussy eating?
Whilst fussy eating is often considered quite normal in early childhood it is important to know when to seek help. Some red flags to watch out for includes limited safe foods such as less than 20 foods, refusal to eat previously safe foods with no new foods being added to replace these foods, avoidance of whole food groups, avoidance of foods with certain textures, poor growth or excessive growth, ongoing choking, gagging, coughing or vomiting during meals, anxiety with new food exposures and mealtime battles resulting in stress for both you and your child.
If you are wanting more support to help your child eat more variety and to feel more confident that your child is getting the right nutrition to grow and be healthy please get in touch with Melinda. Melinda offers both online and face-to-face consultations.
Let us Introduce Melinda
Melinda is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and founder of Lifestyle Nutrition, a paediatric practice based in Melbourne. She has completed further paediatric post graduate training including her Certificate in Paediatric Nutrition and Dietetics with the Royal Children’s Hospital and Sequential Oral Sensory (SOS) Approach to Feeding Program.
As a paediatric dietitian Melinda has a special interest in food allergies, intolerances and gut health. She enjoys being able to help parents manage food allergies, relieve tummy troubles and feel confident feeding their baby or child. Melinda is also experienced in supporting families with fussy eating and feeding difficulties.