Children and meal times aren’t always a positive experience! I know first-hand, how extremely difficult and stressful it can be when your child refuses a meal, or even worse, throws it on the floor. As parents, one of our most important roles is to provide our children with a healthy diet, and there’s nothing we want more than for our child to pick up that piece of broccoli and eat it without a fuss.
Like a lot of families, I too have struggled with my little ones at mealtimes, and fussy eating has definitely been a part of our journey around the dinner table. I sometimes think of fussy eating like a journey, without a destination. I say that because I don’t know if it will ever end, and I don’t know if your kids will end up eating every vegetable. But, it can get better. It will take time, patience (a lot of it), compassion, and a lot of thrown out food to get there but it is possible!
So how does it improve? I’m no expert and I want to mention first that if you are concerned about your child not eating enough you should definitely seek professional advice from a doctor or dietician. But here are some tips and techniques that have successfully worked for my little family and I really hope you too can find them useful.
Family Meal Times - When I’m talking to Parents about fussiness I always start by asking one simple question, and that is, “do you sit down as a family at dinner time”?. The reason I ask is that this was a light bulb moment for me when my son Finn was around 16 months old. He started losing interest in his food, especially at dinnertime, and was becoming extremely fussy. I came to the realization that things needed to change. My husband agreed he could be home by 5pm each day, and from then on we ate dinner every day, together, at 5pm. It truly made such a positive difference and within only a few days Finn’s fussiness improved significantly.
Children thrive on attention and the less attention you show them at mealtimes, the more likely they are to lose interest. Believe it or not, your children look up to you, and having you model good eating behaviors will encourage them to do the same.
Eating Early – As I mentioned, we do eat dinner at 5pm most days, sometimes earlier. It’s not something I overly enjoy, purely because at 7:30pm I’m starving, but nothing a big bowl of berries and yoghurt can’t fix! The reason we chose to eat early is because my kids are busy and most of the time, don’t stop (I’m sure every parent can relate!)! Usually by 6pm my two are tired, temperamental, or even worse extremely headstrong. Eating earlier gives us all that little bit more patience to result in a positive mealtime.
Limiting Afternoon Snacks - I have two very big snackers! From 3pm onwards all I hear is, “I’m hungry”, or, “I’m still hungry!”. Almost every time I have allowed my children to eat all afternoon, it’s made for an extremely difficult dinnertime. Limiting afternoon snacks will ensure your child isn’t too full to eat his/her dinner.
(It’s definitely not recommended to skip afternoon snacks)
Involving Them In Dinner Prep – What child doesn’t love some responsibility and independence? My two are always helping me with dinner, and even when Finn was young would always eat more dinner if he assisted in the making of it.
This way, your children will see in front of them what is going to be served, instead of being surprised by the peas, corn or broccoli that’s suddenly put in front of them at dinner time. Getting your children involved in the kitchen can also have a positive impact on their development, motor skills and also encourages family bonding.
Having A Calm Approach – I don’t know how many times a day I say “Woosah” in my head. We all know the saying Woosah, and if you don’t, I looked it up in the dictionary for you (Yes it was in there!).
Woosah – To relax. When someone is really tense or frustrated, they just need to say to themselves “Woosah.”
If there’s one thing that is the biggest test in the world, it’s a stubborn toddler. Believe me, I get it. I have two extremely headstrong kids (they get it from me). I know it’s easier said than done because fussy eating is not only frustrating and stressful, it’s also worrying. But, in my experience having a cool, calm and collected approach at mealtimes will help assist your child to also have the same approach. Unfortunately, when children find mealtime stressful, this stress can associate negativity around mealtimes, and in most cases, only make matters worse. It’s ok to feel frustrated because it is frustrating!! Believe me, I have lost it more times than I’d like to admit. However, I’ve learnt over time, that a calm attitude has always had a better effect and, almost every time, led to a more successful mealtime.
Praise - What child doesn’t love to be praised and acknowledged for their good efforts? Even as an adult I’ve recently discovered I love it when someone tells me they’re proud of me, or tells me I’m doing a good job. Praising your child and focusing on the positives will make them feel more accomplished. Instead of focusing on what they won’t eat, focus on what they have eaten. For example, if your child has eaten their chicken and sweet potato but not their broccoli, focus on praising them for eating all their chicken.
Meal Time Break – We’ve had many of these in our house! And I’d love for you to try it. Next time, before you throw a full plate of food in the bin, pop it in the fridge. Because, before you know it your little one is going to say those dreaded after dinner time words “I’m hungry.” and you’re going to be prepared. Placing their plate back in the fridge and allowing them to come back to it once they have calmed down can almost reset their approach to the meal. This particular technique has worked wonders for us.
Don’t Give Up -. I have thrown out what feels like tonnes of broccoli, peas, zucchini, and corn. I’ve also heard the words “I don’t like that.”, more times than I can count. One thing I’ve always been mindful to do, is always add the veggies, no matter what. After numerous times (and by numerous I mean every day for 2 years) of adding any vegetable to Finn’s plate, they finally started to get eaten. Continuing to add a range of wholefoods to your child’s plate each day is extremely important. Your child will be more open to trying things if they’re used to seeing them regularly on their plate
Bribery - This is a touchy subject, after all, a lot of us grew up getting that bowl of ice cream if we ate all our dinner. However, using food as a bribe can create unhealthy relationships with food, and is also more likely to lead to their increased love of ice cream or sweets over a love for vegetables. In our house, the fruit bowl is always open after dinner time. If the kids are still hungry after dinner, they’re always allowed a piece of fruit.
It’s so important to always remember not to be so hard on yourself. Motherhood is tough. Especially on the days you spend hours preparing a meal that won’t get eaten! It can be defeating, testing, and you will at times feel like giving up. Remember to take one day at a time. Always take note of the wins, even if they’re small. And be mindful that you’re doing the best that you can, and that’s always enough.