When you have a child who is a fussy eater, you tend to focus on food – what they are eating (or not eating), how much, when and how to serve new foods. It is really important to know and monitor these things, but when it comes to actually encouraging your child to eat a wider range of foods, you might like to try some of these – non-food specific – activities:
Reward stickers – children respond well to rewards and can have a fun time choosing a sticker to place on a reward chart when they try a new food or eat a whole food group on their plate. Having a reward chart on your kitchen or dining room wall keeps the goals visible and providing stickers that play to your child’s interests will excite them. Make this more about the reward and the activity of choosing a sticker than about the food. For example, rather than saying: ‘eat your pumpkin then you can choose a sticker for your chart,’ try wording it like this: ‘which sticker will you choose tonight once you’ve eaten your pumpkin?’
Board games – is your child into Frozen? Or are they a Harry Potter fan? Use their favourite cartoon, character or theme and design a simple board game around it. Include a few boxes that they can progress to once they eat a certain food or amount of food (for example, after two mouthfuls they can progress a place). If you have multiple fussy eaters you can include them all, or rope in other siblings and parents to help make it a fun experience for your child. As with the reward chart, make this more about the activity and experience than the food.
Share meals together – with our busy schedules, it can be tempting to serve the children’s meals early to get them off to bed. But taking the time to sit with them and share a meal can make the experience of eating more social and enjoyable. Eat what they are eating to be a model for them and ask questions about their day. This serves as an opportunity to bond with your child and takes the focus off what they’re eating and onto their reflection of other experiences they’ve had.
Get them involved – a great way to get your child to eat a broader range of food is get them involved in the preparation process. Get their help to plan the menu, grow veggies, task them with helping to prepare the meal and they will not only be more comfortable with different foods, but may be willing to do even more to help when they can see the whole process through.
A tip on positive encouragement – throughout the whole process, ensure you are providing positive encouragement and it’s not a forced experience; if they don’t want to participate, don’t push it, berate them or say things like ‘well there’s no reward sticker for you tonight.’ This will only induce negative emotions of failure around food. Instead, you can say things like ‘that’s ok, we don’t have to do this now. Maybe later or we’ll try again tomorrow night.’
Taking the focus away from new foods and into an activity or reward can help your child to explore new foods and even try them to expand their range. But when it comes to ensuring your child is getting their required nutrition from the foods they will eat, it’s best to consult with a professional.
If you’re in the Brisbane area and would like more advice on helping fussy eaters to eat and monitor their nutrient levels, visit me in the city for a Children’s Health consultation.