When you have kids, meal times can be stressful. Between putting food on the table, getting everybody to sit up to eat and juggling bath times, dinner may seem like a nightmare. Add fussy eating into the mix and it can become a nightly ordeal.
Here are five tips that can help reduce fussy eating in your household.
- Lead by example
This may seem simple, but often when meal times become stressful, parents don’t eat at the same time. If your child sees you eating everything on your plate, they are likely to copy you. If you can’t manage to eat your whole meal with your kids, try to at least have a very small plate with all the items your kids are eating.
- Get kids involved in the kitchen
Get your kids to help with the cooking. Give them safe and easy jobs that avoid sharp utensils and hot stoves, like chopping up ingredients with a butter knife. Kids are more likely to eat things they have helped prepare as they are more familiar and exciting.
- Meal plan and shop together
Giving kids some choice over what they’re eating can help foster their sense of independence. Allow your kids to pick dinner one night per week, or try having a weekly dinner planner so your child knows what to expect.
If you take your kids shopping, give them some choices about the food you are buying – eg, “We need some apples, can you pick which colour you would like?” Allowing your child to pick a new fruit or vegetable is also a good way to encourage your child to try different foods, while letting them feel in control.
- Plant some veggies with your kids
If you don’t have a garden, buy a small pot (strawberries are great). Getting kids involved in the growing/harvesting process can make them more likely to eat new foods. Cherry tomatoes are often left on the plate, but if your child can pick a bright tomato straight from the plant, it may get popped straight into their mouth and be gone before you know it.
- Don’t try to coerce, bribe or threaten your kids into eating
Sometimes trying to get your kids to eat can be a battle, and at times you may feel like bribing them or even scaring them into eating a particular food. While there is a chance this may work in the short term, it sets up mealtimes as a battle and also can damage your kids’ relationship with food. Try telling your kids why they should eat the food – eg, “This yummy meat will give your body protein, which helps you grow big and strong.”
Remember, no one likes everything. It’s normal that your child will not like 100% of things you serve up. Try to maximise variety, make meal times as relaxed as possible and let the kids do the eating.
For more practical advice on healthy eating, find an Accredited Practising Dietitian.