By Stacey Zimmels, Feeding & Swallowing Specialist
1. Healthy children will take in the calories they need even if they are refusing some parts of meals or whole meals. You may notice them eating a heartier breakfast on some days or snacking more on other days. Knowing this enables you to relax around mealtimes and follow a plan to promote positive eating habits.
2. It is best to make up a balanced plate of food (protein, carb, veg, fruit) and ALWAYS put one food on the plate that you know they will eat. If the rest of the food stays untouched, that is just fine!
3. Many parents stop giving children foods they know they won’t eat. My advice is to continue to give them opportunities to eat a range of foods. Research shows that exposure to foods is key to acceptance, so if you give up on the green veg then your fussy eater is even less likely to eat them in the long run.
4. There should be no need to offer an alternative as you have ensured that there is always something your child will eat on the plate. Offering an alternative will most likely leave your child refusing and holding out for something else.
5. And then they refuse… “Yuk I’m not eating that!” You will become a Zen Dinner Master and you will calmly say: “You do not have to eat it.” Your fussy eater will initially look at you with surprise. However as soon as you have uttered those words there is no power struggle, nothing to argue with, no winners, no losers and no battle! Mealtimes will suddenly be more relaxed for both you and your child.
6. Does this sound familiar? “You can only have a yoghurt if you eat your broccoli”? Using a food as a reward for eating other foods teaches that the non-desired food (broccoli) is not as good as the desired food (yoghurt). This serves to reinforce your fussy eater’s lack of interest in some foods. This should be avoided at all costs.
7. You’re going to laugh at this next fix… If your child’s meal is going to include a dessert, then present that with the rest of the food at the start of the meal (shock horror). They may eat the dessert first, but guess what? They will most likely then go on to eat a portion of the meal. And even better, there is no negotiation or debate about how many bites of carrot before they can have dessert.
8. So who should be sitting /eating at the table with your child? “Peppa Pig!” I hear your child demand. Sadly not. Distractions are not beneficial in the long term and can create other food-related issues due to kids not observing when they are full and not gaining pleasure from the tastes and sensations of eating. Family and friends? Yes, you got it! Eating together and seeing others eat will most likely give your child confidence to try new things.
Stacey is a Feeding and Swallowing Specialist Speech & Language Therapist. She has almost 20 years of experience supporting infants and children with feeding difficulties. From bottle refusing to fussy eating, breastfeeding difficulties to reflux and allergy related feeding issues, Stacey has a wealth of knowledge and experience. She currently divides her time between working in the NHS, running her private practice and being mum to two small children. For more information about what support Stacey can offer, and for her contact details go to www.feedeatspeak.co.uk