Struggling to get your little ones to eat their greens? Relax, you’re not alone, and there’s plenty you can do. Try this expert advice from GP and mum-of-one Dr Pixie McKenna
A new survey by YouGov shows that fussy eating habits affect more than eight in 10 families, with one in four parents regularly giving up trying to get their picky children to eat healthily. A staggering 68% said they feel frustrated and stressed with the situation.
“Parents worry their fussy eaters are not getting enough nutrients and that definitely resonates with me” says Dr Pixie. “I’ve struggled with that myself. My daughter’s not a great eater and I’m surrounded by people whose children are, or have been, ‘great eaters’ and this adds a certain feeling of pressure. It’s natural when your child won’t eat certain things – anything green in my daughter’s case - to worry that you’ll be judged.”
Take heart, and action, with Dr Pixie’s top tips
1. Remember that it’s a common problem: 30 percent of children go through a fussy eating phase. Remind yourself of this every time dinner erupts into a full-on food fight. This is a phase and like teething and colic it too will pass, so try to be patient!
2. Most children will eat when they are hungry - common sense maybe, but hard to fathom when we become frustrated with a little one’s fussiness. While feeding your offspring might seem the most natural and basic duty of a parent, it can be a battle. However emotional you feel about your child’s eating habits keep it to yourself as they will only play up if they feel they are getting attention.
3. Mealtimes are important for all the family as a focus for communication and bonding. Aim to have everyone eating the same thing in the same sitting. Children mimic their parents so don’t pass on the vegetables unless you want your little one to do the same.
Allocate 30 minutes for meals and then lift the plate whether it’s finished or not
4. Have a routine. Schedule three meals and a few small snacks throughout the day and stick to it like clockwork. Allocate 30 minutes for meals and then lift the plate whether it’s finished or not, without making a fuss. Making them sit staring at a cold plate creates negative associations and annoys the chef! Nobody wins!
5. Over-drinking is one of the main causes of fussy eating. The tiny stomach of a toddler is easily filled up with fluid reducing their appetite for food. Limit milk to 500ml per day and/or dilute 100ml fruit juice with water over the course of the day.
If at first you don’t succeed you may need to try 10-14 times before they will actually taste it
6. Keep trying! We are hardwired to fear new foods, something that was handed down from our ancestors, as a safety device to avoid eating something poisonous. Similarly, we favour sweet foods over bitter ones as our instinct tells us the latter might be bad or even deadly. Children like the foods that are most familiar to them. If at first you don’t succeed you may need to try 10-14 times before they will actually taste it.
7. Avoid offering large portions of food. Aim for small portions, which enable them to ask for more, the holy grail for the parent with a fussy eater! Limit their choices. A huge array of food on a plate will only put them off.
8. Encourage your kids in the preparation of food and make it fun. Dinosaur pasta and fairy mash sounds much better than boring bolognaise and potatoes. Be adept at sneaking veg in, concealed in pasta tubes, grated, diced or pureed.
9. Beware the bribe. If you offer an alternative of chips, biscuits or lollies they are sure to perform at the next meal time knowing you will cave in. Praise a clean plate and avoid confrontation if they have only picked.
10. Ask for help. It may be a common issue but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. If your child is displaying worrying symptoms like behavioural issues, fatigue, digestive problems or weight loss seek advice from your GP. If they are happy and healthy and feeding time is little more than a hassle then tap into fussyeaters.co.uk for advice on all aspects of fussy eating.
Dr Pixie is working with PaediaSure Shake highlighting the need for more realistic support for parents with fussy eaters. For more information, see fussyeaters.co.uk. PaediaSure Shake is available from Boots priced at £10.