Turning a Picky Eater into a Curious Foodie

A guide on turning fussy eaters into food explorers:

One of the main questions we receive as a nursery school is: ‘how can I support my child with eating?’. Fussy eating is known as an ‘unwillingness to eat both familiar and unfamiliar foods’. As you read through this blog these are the top 5 things which we believe will help your child/children to become food explorers.  

Be a good role model

The first and most important thing is to be a good role model for your children. If we want our children to explore food we must first put aside our own habits, such as moving vegetables to the side when we eat our dinner or picking out things from our plate (which many of us used to do previously as well) so trust us when we say you’re not alone. 

An important thing to remember is that children see most things that we do even when it looks like they are not paying any attention to it, so if they see you moving food to the side they will pick up on this and copy it. When you can try to sit down with your child to eat together so they can learn good and healthy eating habits from you. 

The paediatric dietitian says:

‘A powerful way to encourage a child to eat is to model it yourself. If you never drink water, for example, then you can’t complain that your children won’t drink it! Self-reflection and the realisation that your children mimic your eating habits can cause feelings of guilt, but it’s really important.’

Involve them in cooking

Children are more likely to try something that they have been involved in preparing themselves. This can be something so simple as helping you crack an egg or washing some vegetables for you to add into their meal. During this time, ask them questions such as ‘What colour vegetable do you have?’ ‘How many spoonfuls do we need?’ ‘Can you help me find the whisk?’. Asking questions such as these will make your child/children feel included.

The paediatric dietitian says:

‘Cooking provides endless opportunities for tasting and experiencing new flavours. A past fussy eating patient of mine is now training to be a chef!’

Keep introducing new and unfamiliar foods

Did you know that research has shown that it can take children 15-20 times of being offered a specific food before they will be interested in the idea of eating what you have given to them? Therefore, it is important to keep on trying and when you do it should be 85% familiar foods and 25% unfamiliar foods. Children are naturally inquisitive, and you will hear them ask endless random questions as they try to figure out the world on their own. When children ask to try the ketchup from the table or a piece of mushroom on your pizza or even a piece of corn from your salad, this is the children being inquisitive as they have no preconception on what is nice and what isn’t nice. It’s easy for many parents, teachers and carers to accidently knock this adventurous spirit by what we say to them, before we know it children will go from ‘oh what’s that’ to ‘I’m not going to try that it’s yuck’ – so let them try things and let them be the ones to decide on their own if they like it or not.  

The paediatric dietitian says:

‘More trialling of new foods really helps to reduce fussy eating. You may worry about the new food going entirely to waste, but put it in perspective. You only need to offer a tiny amount and long-term it will have a really beneficial effect.’

Let them eat at their own pace

If you have a slow eater at home, never rush them or push them to eat faster. Don’t comment on what they have left on their plate or tell them to eat it. Another important thing to remember is to not be tempted to take things off their plate or assume that they’re not going to eat it. They might not have gotten around to it yet or they could be saving it till last. Another key thing is to avoid taking their plate away from them too early assuming they’ve finished and have eaten all that they want to. This will put pressure on the child/children to eat faster than they normally would.

The paediatric dietitian says:

‘Don’t rush mealtimes. Aim for at least 30 minutes dedicated time with no interruptions or distractions. Telling your child to hurry up or eat up adds extra pressure and can result in a bigger battle.’

Make the dinner table a happy, relaxed, ‘together’ place to be

The dinner table should be a place where there should be positive associations, where family come together to talk, catch up on what happened during their day and a place to laugh and relax whilst eating. The first thing that would need to happen is sit together as a family and eat together but sometimes that isn’t possible. Instead, choose a day on the weekend when everyone is free and have a day where everyone gets together (and stick to it). By following all the key points the dinner table will become a nice place to eat around as there won’t be pressure on your child/children to eat and the battles of food will slowly disappear. 

The paediatric dietitian says:

‘If you are in a situation where you don’t have a dinner table, try and create somewhere you can eat together- with the TV off. You could lay out a blanket on the living room floor.’

Rather than saying ‘carrots are good for your eyes’ you can say… 

We often find ourselves thinking of things to say just to get children to eat a piece of vegetable or fruit. Below is a table of what the different foods do for our body so next time instead of saying ‘carrots are good for your eyes’ you can say ‘red foods such as your apple is a great fruit to help your heart’.

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