Fussy eaters? Here’s what you can do

  • Battle of wills: meals can quickly become a problem if you try to force children to eat food they don’t like

    Battle of wills: meals can quickly become a problem if you try to force children to eat food they don’t like


Becoming a mum was without doubt the biggest milestone of my life … and I’m not sure that will ever change. After eating Lays the whole way through my pregnancy, I genuinely thought I might give birth to a crisp packet. So, having a baby was a bit of a shock.

After Chloe was born, I remember being incredulous that the hospital would actually let us take her home. I was thinking, “I can’t even keep a house plant alive, but you’re going to let me have a human? Are you insane?”

There were moments when I genuinely questioned my competence. I snipped her tiny finger with the nail clippers by accident, I banged her little head against the wall when I was coming down the stairs (sorry kiddo!), I was late for vaccinations (sometimes) and late for school (a lot); I once had to dry her socks using the air vent in the car.

But you know what? At least those socks were clean and she was well fed and she was loved.

The terrible thing about other mums is that sometimes you share these stories and are met with a big wave of disapproval. The great thing about other mums is that sometimes you’re not.

It’s such a relief when other people admit they have done the same thing too. I remember one girl I know dropping her baby out of bed in the maternity ward. Gosh, that’s not going to make you feel all that confident is it? (Don’t worry, the baby was totally fine.) I’ve a million other stories from girlfriends too. It’s a wonder that the human race has survived this far, to be honest.

But of all the things we worry about most, what we feed our kids has got to be pretty high on the list. It’s also one of the more infuriating aspects of parenting. Short of shoving a sandwich down their throats, you can’t actually force a child to eat (as much as you might like to).

While there are days when parenting is a total dream, there are days when it is polar opposite. Over the weekend, I tucked my sun-kissed girls into bed after a day of sun and swimming and hilarious chat. It was one of those days when I got lucky with the circumstances and all the planets aligned. But there are also days full of squabbles and complaining and days where I would rather put my head in the tumble dryer than talk my kids through another round of eating their vegetables.

As I mentioned last week, food can quickly become a battle of wills. It’s one area where kids really can exercise their will over yours. We have an epidemic of fussy eating, with so many kids sticking to a diet of white carbs. They are living off pasta, toast and Cheerios and are hesitant to try new things. What are the reasons? I think we have a generation of exhausted parents who (understandably) choose an easier route at the end of the working day.

We have too much choice and too much food — our kids are fussy because they can be. They are fussy because they are not often genuinely hungry. Imagine a cave-toddler turning down the deer and fruit their hunter-gatherer parents dragged in. It would not have happened. They would have eaten it because it was the only food available and they didn’t have Oreos and Goldfish crackers to compare it with.

Recently, one dad got so overwhelmed that he came up with a radical solution to his kids’ fussy eating. When all family meals had been rejected (including the reliable favourites) and when no one child would eat the same thing as another, he threw his hands up and went on strike.

He put a range of ingredients on the kitchen counter and told his kids to make their own dinner. Eventually, when they realised nothing else was coming, they made themselves sandwiches. He continued to make dinner for himself and his wife (real adult food) and he stuck to his guns.

After ten days of the kids making themselves sandwiches, they asked their dad if they could have dinner with the adults. He said no, that he hadn’t catered for them that day and he didn’t have enough.

But he said that if they would like to join in dinner the next night, then he would be happy to include them. And the response? They said yes. And the next night at dinner they said, “Oh thank goodness this isn’t another sandwich!”

If you have the will and determination to try that idea, please let me know how it goes! I think it’s an amazing approach. My kids have never been all that fussy, although they have definitely become more picky the more exposed they have been to all the sugary stuff out there.

But, I’ve helped my fair share of restricters in the clinic. So ,if you would like some middle-of-the-line, slightly less drastic ideas, please see below. Let me know how you go!

They’ve got to be hungry!

There’s no way around it. The expression “appetite is the best seasoning” is dead on. I still remember getting to a tiny restaurant at the end of a ten-mile hike up a mountain in Malawi.

We hadn’t eaten a proper meal in a few days and when we got to the top, we were told dinner would be “a few hours” because they had to make everything from scratch. Four hours later (not exaggerating!), we were given rice, beans, peanut sauce and green vegetables. It was the most delicious thing I have ever eaten — because I was starving!

The point is, if your kids are full of snacks, they are not going to be hungry for dinner. Try calling time on snacks two hours beforehand.

Introduce the new alongside the familiar

Being overwhelmed with new stuff isn’t easy for a kid. If you want to get them to try something new (let’s say quinoa) try offering it with a lot of what they do like — let’s say chicken nuggets and broccoli) — then the onus really is on to “try” and they can let you know what they think. (Note: to give something a fair go, they really need to try it on about ten different occasions.) You won’t be stressing about how much they have eaten. And if you are not stressing, then neither are they.

Make dinnertime fun

If you have a fussy eater, the likelihood is that dinnertime has been a little stressful lately. Try a few games at the table, but pick games that are conversation-based and don’t involve distracting toys.

My kids still like the “close your eyes” game, where one person asks another to close their eyes. They then ask an observation question like “what colour is the top I’m wearing?” or “which earrings are mummy wearing?”

If they get it right, they get to ask someone else. If they get it wrong, then the one who asked the question gets to have another turn. Twenty Questions is also good. You have to guess what animal the other person is thinking of by asking yes or no questions only, and you only have 20 questions!

Give them options

Kids love to be consulted and they love to choose. Before you go shopping, ask the kids to pick one meal each for the week that they would like for dinner (that the whole family eats). You might not want to leave it open-ended, ask something like, “On Tuesday after football, would you like to choose spaghetti Bolognese or chicken stir-fry?”

Try a carrot, not a stick

Kid LOVE rewards. It doesn’t really matter what age they are, try a reward chart for trying new foods or eating veggies. A trip to the movies, a new app, a little shopping, a sleepover, staying up for an extra hour, picking out a book; whatever would motivate them, maybe, just not a trip to KFC!

Catherine Burns is a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. For details: natural.bm, 236-7511 or, on Facebook, Natural Nutrition Bermuda

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Published Apr 5, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Apr 5, 2019 at 1:40 pm)

Fussy eaters? Here’s what you can do

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