How to cook for your fussy child.
Having a child who refuses to eat is a cause of stress for many parents. It can be heartbreaking to see your carefully planned meal that you spent the past 2 hours preparing being shoved around the plate with a fork, with your child adamantly refusing to eat even a bite - and finally requesting a chocolate bar or fish fingers instead.
However it is important for parents to help establish healthy eating habits for children early on so they can carry these habits later on in life, and also to prevent obesity, or a lifetime of fussy eating habits.
First and foremost, parents need to be aware of what their kids should be eating to help them decide what to cook and what to present to the children.
The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) have published dietary guidelines for Australian adolescents and children which encourages enjoying a wide variety of nutritious foods:
Children and adolescents should be encouraged to:
Eat plenty of vegetables, legumes and fruits
Eat plenty of cereals (including breads, rice, pasta and noodles), preferably wholegrain
Include lean meat, ﬁsh, poultry and/or alternatives
Include milks, yoghurts, cheeses and/or alternatives. Reduced-fat milks are not suitable for young children under 2 years, because of their high energy needs, but reduced-fat varieties should be encouraged for older children and adolescents
Choose water as a drink
Care should be taken to:
But how to get your child to eat food from these guidelines? Here are various tricks to keep in mind when figuring out how to get your child to eat all the goodness you are offering them:
The Food Groups
There are five food groups to keep in mind when doing your groceries:
3. Grains (including bread, pasta, cereal, noodles and rice)
4. Protein (meats, fish, poultry, nuts, and legumes)
5. Dairy (milk, yoghurt and cheeses)
But how to get your child to eat food from all these groups? Here are various tricks to keep in mind when figuring out how to get your child to eat all the goodness you are offering them:
Cook with your children
Including your children in meal preparation has many short and long term benefits. By giving your child some simple preparation tasks they are more likely to appreciate (and thus eat!) the meal afterwards. Children will also feel as if they are contributing to the family if they helped to make the food when the family is eating. Cooking with your kids also introduces your children to the different food groups and gives them valuable cooking skills and eating habits that they can carry on later in life. Be patient and cheerful and donít worry about making a mess. Cooking in supposed to be fun!
Make a variety of colourful, pretty food
Would you prefer to eat something that looks like a mushy dull looking blob on your plate, or colourful nicely presented food? Prefer the second option? So do most kids. So try and offer a choice of colours on your kidís plate, present it nicely and let them choose. If they refuse one food, try and offer an alternative from the same food group in another meal. However, remember than it can take more than a couple of attempts to get a child to eat, so donít give up too easily.
Do not bribe your child with unhealthy food options
If your child rejects everything at mealtime, do not bribe them or offer them an alternative not on the meal plan. Your child will not starve himself! If you are to bribe, offer rewards that are not food related, for example a visit to somewhere they like. If they flat out refuse to eat, offer healthy snacks after an hour or two.
Take your children food shopping
Next time you go do the groceries, bring your children along and ask them which fruit and vegetables they would prefer. Involving them in the food selection will get them more excited about when they will eat it.
End playtime before mealtime
Often children are too excited to eat when their food is put in front of them. So end your childís activity, switch off the television and calm them down around 15 minutes before a meal is ready. This will help them be more prepared to eat the meal. This also includes no television and distractions during mealtime.
Regularity with meals
It is helpful for children to eat at regular times and for family members to have their own seats at the table. It is also important for mealtimes to be fun and without arguments so the children can look forward to it throughout the day.
Fussy parents, fussy kids
Children will often mimic the behaviour of their parents. If they see a parent being selective with the food they are offered, or witnessing a parent getting special treatment and being given an alternative meal Ė your child is likely to copy that behaviour and be fussy themselves. So remember to be a good role model for your child and show them that you enjoy eating all foods too.
It is important to remember to introduce to your child the habit of eating at breakfast, lunch or dinnertime and establish that they cannot pick at their food for 4 hours after the meal. To do this remove their plate when they are done with eating, so they donít feel like they can run back and forth between their play activity and the table for hours afterwards.
As you attempt the various strategies, try to keep in mind the following things:
Your child will not eat like an adult. Three small meals with snacks is sufficient and if they are hungry, they will ask for more!
Be patient! Your child will not develop regular eating habits overnight so be prepared to be creative and persevere.
Differentiate between fussiness and simply not being hungry.