How to deal with a Fussy Eater

My name is Jess and I am a mummy to a 3 and 5 year old. This article comes from the heart, it comes from a heart that has been there, lived it, cried (every meal time at one stage!) and from a mummy who has hidden in the pantry and counted to 10… and then to 10 again before coming out with my big girl pants pulled up to my nipples and a smile plastered on my face (which in hindsight probably looked as manic as I felt!!). This article comes from a place of ZERO judgement.

My son (now 5) was off the scale “Fussy Eater”. There were days he wouldn’t eat a single thing, some days he would only chew and would then SPIT IT OUT (argh!!!) or he would scream and cry at the anxiety that meal times caused him. I lost count of the times I googled about Mal-nourishment, brain development and hunger.

There are MANY reasons your little one might be fussy with their food and it is normal (to a degree). Children of all ages can be extremely fussy with taste, shapes, colours and textures – or combinations of these, it’s a minefield isn’t it and the wasted food is heartbreaking! Children can also go through phases and teething stages (now I used to find this both re assuring and frustrating at the same time! I used to feel re assured knowing that it probably wasn’t a long term thing but after 12 months or so I really found myself feeling a bit frustrated with people saying that!). I know that phases can become habits quickly and THAT was the problem I now had laid out in front of me!

As if kiddies weren’t quirky enough – you know what else? They have different taste perceptions to adults! So they may well like gherkins, strawberries AND egg…but they may also like them in the same meal or the same mouthful! They also feel textures differently so what we may feel as ‘wet’ they might find slimy and just too overwhelming!

Now, the good news is I have LOTS of advice!! I have run fussy eaters master classes where mums have said “Oh, I don’t do that, that’s what I’m doing wrong”. Please PLEASE don’t think that because I am now able to write this that I was able to do all of these things at the time.. NOPE!!

When you are in the thick of it, everyday feels like groundhog day because you know every meal time and snack time is a hurdle .. and they are ALWAYS LOOMING!!! You feel broken.  Want to know the BIGGEST thing you can do? Take a step back! Step out of your own head and your own stresses and strip it back a bit. Don’t transfer your anxieties. Fussy eating can be a push back or resistance to being overly pushy with food. Most the time children feel anxious and when that turns into upset—you have lost the battle so KEEP CALM (I could put one of those 'Keep Calm and Carry on' slogans in here -  but I won't do it to you!)

I regularly get asked for my best piece of advice, and genuinely it isn’t one size fits all or a quick over night fix BUT there are SO SO many positive little things that can make a world of difference. I see them so clearly now I am able to stand back and be objective.

One of the BEST things you can do is be a good role model. Now I promised this was a judgey free zone which I stand by. That doesn’t mean you aren’t already a super duper role model it means just.. showcase yourself! Highlight it a little bit more, and DO NOT make them a separate meal… this is a landslide into a catch 22 and it correlates with being a positive role model. Have the same as them, eat it all up and DRAMATIZE how DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEELISH your broccoli is!

Another biggie is to ALWAYS set your kiddies realistic expectations. Yes, plan big but big plans mean long term. Break them down into bite size (see what I did there!!.. oh I do make myself laugh sometimes!!) achievements that they can reach daily and POSITIVE PRAISE (be over the top and dramatic!!)… you will feel silly but children LOVE to please and once the connection is made, your downward spiral will start to do an about turn!

Snacks are SO IMPORTANT! I learnt to look at my sons DAY rather than meal by meal..That in itself helped.. when he ate something! Some kiddies are just grazers while they are finding their feet. I used to try and take the pressure off meal times a bit by making sure snacks were always nutritious. I never knew how crackers become life before I had kids and it's SO EASY to fall into a mind frame of "well at least he ate that" because while that is true of course (and some days are TOTALLY like that!!) you must be mindful not to give them snacks that are high in sugar and fats all of the time because that will become their 'Go to' snack and you are offering empty calories and missing an opportunity to nourish them - just something else to try and juggle hey!

Keep consistently exposing them to foods—mix new with old. Mix up textures, flavours and colours and DO NOT STOP!!! My rule of thumb was to offer 4 foods at any time (e.g on a plate) 2 I knew were ‘safe’ foods i.e Olives and Cheese and 2 foods we needed to work on.. and rotate but ALWAYS have safe foods on the plate and soon enough they will react positively to the consistency. Tap into their subconscious and stay one step ahead! Without encouraging silly behaviour, meal times need to be fun and SAFE.

By keeping your menu varied in this way you will start to win – you are keeping them interested and expanding their palate (I know it may be SLOW!) But you are also giving them a safety net which they will learn to trust but I will say it again .. Consistency is KEY and don’t get angry.

Children need boundaries (don’t get me wrong I know sometimes they like to charge  STRAIGHT through them and jump and stamp on them along they way.. I mentioned my 5 year old right?!). Set your kiddie a clear time slot for meal times but not a timer! Have I confused you yet? By setting a time allocation for a meal they know that you a serious and have a structured plan. By setting a TIMER that causes stress and pressure – we want to steer clear of anxiety and stress.

Now..bribery is tempting I know.. “Eat that and you can have a cookie” .. I think you know what I am going to say here! As tempting as it is.. remove bribery and negotiations. You absolutely don’t need to ban foods (as in please don’t it. It can be really damaging but that’s another blog for another day!), but kiddies need to grow up knowing their healthy foods from their treat foods and their always foods from their sometimes foods.

Carve some time out to learn with them. Grow some veggies or visit your local community garden and learn TOGETHER where foods come from. Take your child shopping, let them choose (always give them options e.g Do you want the carrots or the snow peas?” It’s win win for both of you, but you have given them some ownership which they will respond positively to!

Get your kiddies involved in the kitchen. They love to wash, mix, glaze, chop, knead! They love the whole process and it encourages them to view food differently and ENJOY the process. To learn more about this take a look at our blog on 'THE IMPORTANCE OF COOKING WITH KIDS.. FROM SOMEONE WITH KIDS' It's a great read if I do say so myself!

Here at Cook n Create we run Fussy Eaters masterclasses we dive in a LOT deeper but I didn’t want to overwhelm you! I hope this article has been some help and comfort to you but it really is the tip of the iceberg! When you leave a masterclass you will leave with a Cook n Create ‘Toolkit’. This is FULL of ideas, activities that have been tried and tested and that have WORKED!!! You will learn a lot and leave with a new mindset and an energy you had forgotten you had!

Keep an eye on our events for the next masterclass or reach out to Jess -

Keep trying and keep going - Re set EVERY DAY ..With a smile on your face! 🙂

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