Surviving fussy eaters
What do you do when the apple of your eye, the light of your life, your darling cherub won’t eat ANYTHING other than pasta, Tiny Teddies, and chicken nuggets? Bang your head against a wall?
Though you may feel you want to, hopefully it doesn’t come to that! But no doubt, it is frustrating when Little Mr or Miss Fussy-Pants simply refuse to eat what you have created for them.
And it can be daunting or tiring to try anything different.
Kids grow and develop fast and therefore they need good and nutritious food. Childhood is a critical time for development of the body and the brain.
Fostering a positive relationship with what we eat and drink can begin in infancy and childhood. Whilst the occasional treat is fine, we have to keep in mind that what we eat and drink impacts our health – short and long-term.
Health promotion bodies seek to encourage good food habits and preferences in our kids to mitigate risk for obesity and related health conditions later in life, as these are inextricably linked to a poor diet.1 In fact, high intake of heavily refined, high GI carbohydrates and simple, added sugars have been shown to predispose an individual to insulin resistance and obesity later in life.2
Add to that, it has been found that too much of the sweet stuff can suppress the immune system.3 So, what can we do to help our kids?
Lead by example
Kids learn through imitation. If you want them to eat something, you should be eating it too.
Get them involved
Have your munchkin take part in the process of meal creation – be it mixing, moulding, stirring, or picking leaves from a bunch of herbs! They may be more invested having been involved.
Language around food is important. Instead of labelling food as good or bad, explain what is nutritious and what is not.
In order to help our kids achieve what they want – whether it be playing footy on the weekend, read or write stories, or become a super-smart-computer-programmer – explain that real whole nutrient dense food will help us; heavily refined and processed foods will not.
Make veggies tasty
Hands up who still has an adversity to brussel sprouts? They, and other veg, can be super tasty when prepared properly and not boiled beyond recognition.
Taste, flavour and texture all play a role in whether a kidlet decides they like a food or not. So, lightly steam or sauté veg, or serve raw or baked (roasting brussel sprouts, for example, will change your life forever for the better). What you do will depend on the veg, and when served with a little salt, olive oil, butter or a sprinkle of a spice mix, you are serving up something you too will enjoy!
Superhero your food
For the younger set, being a superhero is a legitimate later life aspiration. But how can they get to save the world if they haven’t the fuel to do so? Whether for smarts, strength, defence, powerful eyesight or solving a mystery, we have ideas of foods to encourage each super power in this article for you to take to your future saviour of the world.
Blend ’em in
Up veggie intake by slipping in extra serves into sauces, soups, dips, baking, sweet snacks, and other creations. Whole, colourful plant foods offer an array of health benefits, and ideas to include them can be:
- Cauliflower into mac and cheese
- Zucchini and carrot grated into bolognese sauce
- Blended up in soups
- Stews and casseroles
- Mexican burritos or nachos with beans and grated vegetables in topping mixture
- Zucchini and banana into baking
Be patient, persistent and consistent
Introducing more whole foods into a child’s diet – from the time they are first introduced to solids through to their teens – is a process of trial and error, but worth persisting with. It can take more than 8 attempts to get a kid to accept a new food!
For example, the chicken nuggets could eventually be swapped for homemade chicken meatballs; the bowl that is predominately pasta could have a little more homemade bolognese sauce-to-pasta ratio each time it is served; a whole food, low or no sugar cacao biscuit could be offered over the Tiny Teddies.
Exercise your greatest patience, be consistent in serving up the whole foods, and slowly phase out the not-so-nutritious stuff. Have fruit, nuts, or a boiled egg for morning tea; veg sticks for a pre-dinner snack; and more sweet potato mash, cauliflower pieces, and peas on the plate than the highly processed frankfurter at dinner.
We have a heap of recipes on our website, in our Low Sugar Snacks e-book and The Office Luncheon e-book as well as our printed books too for meal inspiration, which are designed to be easy to create and nourishing for the whole family, limiting the sugary stuff.
Get creative and revitalise the conversation as to what food can offer. Every kid is different, but by being consistent, offering whole food more often than the heavily processed stuff, and having them eat what you eat whenever possible, they will eventually come around.
However, sometimes the underlying cause behind extreme fussiness or aversion to many foods requires some further investigation. If you’ve concerns about how fussy or restrictive your child is when it comes to food or drink, please see your trusted healthcare practitioner, to help identify possible causes and to work on ways to encourage better eating.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Ventura, A, & Worobey, J 2013, ‘Review: Early Influences on the Development of Food Preferences’, Current Biology, vol. 23, pp. R401-R408.
- Neu, J, Hauser, N, & Douglas-Escobar, M 2007, ‘Postnatal nutrition and adult health programming’, Seminars in Fetal and Neonatal Medicine, vol. 12, no. Nutrition, pp. 78-86.
- Hechtman, L 2012, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine, Churchill Livingstone, Chatswood, N.S.W