Meal times can be a massive source of stress for some families that have fussy eaters. It can be exhausting when your child is refusing food or demanding alternatives. This is often a result of the child learning that they can gain control using their food choices.
The number one rule is a healthy child will never starve themselves. The sooner you realise this, the sooner you can regain control. Some strategies to implement at meals times are:
- Don’t put too much on your child’s plate, it can be off-putting – for young children offer good foods 6 times per day
- Offer food that is the same to what the rest of the family is eating. No one gets a special meal so they won’t think they can demand otherwise.
- Chop things up so they are easy to eat (ie finger foods). If they can’t eat independently they can refuse to eat because they want to be able to eat on their own.
- Avoid giving food or drink 1 hour before a meal so they aren’t full.
- Offer different textures – and offer the same food cooked in different ways. Ie. Cooked versus raw veggies.
- Respect that your child may have likes and dislikes, but still offer the food, and one other choice on the plate – they can leave it if they wish, but can’t decide they want something else afterwards!
- Don’t offer too much dairy or milk – 2 serves/day. Any more and they will be too full and won’t get the nutritional benefits from other foods.
- No soft drink/cordial – they can suppress appetite and offer little nutrition
It is important that you are a good role model. Show them that you enjoy eating healthy foods! If there is a food you don’t like, don’t make comments about it, let your child make up their own mind about it.
Lastly, and most difficult, is to stay calm and relaxed. Don’t nag or punish at the dinner table as they will start to associate stress with this time of day. Make it clear that you are in charge of what they can eat and when, and they can decide how much or if they will eat.