One more mouthful...
15 August 2011
Despite every parent’s good intentions and hard work, there seems to be a point when every child becomes a fussy eater. For some this will just be a temporary blip, for others a struggle lasting years. But no matter how hard we try, we are often defeated by the overwhelming feeling that anything is better than nothing! The issue becomes more frustrating when it appears your toddler knows that you will give in eventually – just so they have eaten something.
It is almost like your little one has made a conscious decision to not eat anything you give them - even if it is actually one of their favourite foods! They could have eaten the same food yesterday without any complaints and several ‘yummy’ remarks, but this apparently has no bearing on today! Sweets, crisps, fromage frais, tuna sandwiches or stringy cheese – the food of choice can be anything – and sometimes something you thought your child didn’t even like!
The way you react to your child can often determine their next move. Giving in (something which we all do at some point) just enables your child to control you and the situation. Once they have control it is very hard to reverse it without a great deal of will power.
The answer – well these things are never black and white. And there are always exceptions to the rule or situations where the issue is greater than just being a fussy eater. But generally it seems that the more involved a child is with food – by that I mean growing it, preparing it, cooking it, discussing it, reading about it – the more likely they are to WANT to try new things and to enjoy eating. After all, eating is not supposed to be a chore and it can be a very sociable and happy occasion.
So the trick is to make your child WANT to be involved and to CHOOSE to eat the right food.
Getting messy in the garden or even planting a few herbs in pots is always very exciting – especially if you let your little one loose. Allow them to feel the soil and dig holes, plant the seeds and explain what they are planting. It is best to choose a fast growing plant so they can see something growing as quickly as possible. They then need to be involved in looking after the plant, watering it and making sure it’s nice and healthy. This is a good way for them to start to learn about the weather and they can open the window each morning and give a weather report. They will soon learn whether the weather has made their plant happy or sad and whether they need to do anything extra that day to look after their plant. The pride they feel when they are able to pick the fruit or dig up the vegetable is priceless.
Shopping can be very stressful with little ones in tow, so it is nice to set aside a time when you are not doing a big weekly shop, but you can stroll round the supermarket or shop. Looking at the fruit and vegetables, discussing the colours and shapes and seeing what looks ‘yummy’. You can even suggest buying something that looks interesting – even if you haven’t tried it before. Make a point of telling your child that you haven’t tried this and maybe you should both try it together to see what it tastes like and whether you like it. You might be surprised what they pick!
Cooking is something more people should learn to do and the earlier the better. Making a meal from scratch for your family is very satisfying and something that the whole family can be involved in. There are many jobs in the kitchen your little one can do safely while still having fun. Obviously you have to make them aware of the dangers, things they should not touch and are grown up jobs, but by giving them something more exciting to do instead they usually accept this quickly. Weighing, mixing, whisking, cutting out, buttering trays, decorating – the finished dish may not be perfect but they will still be amazed and want to eat it.
Whatever it is you do, let them come to you. Don’t force the issue. Let you child choose to be involved because it looks fun and let them want to eat their dinner because they know what it is and where it comes from and how yummy it tastes. The ‘trick’ stops being a trick and becomes a natural, happy environment for your child to grow and develop and one in which you are more relaxed and can enjoy meal times again as a family.