How do I help my fussy eater?
How do I help my fussy eater? It is one of the questions we are asked most frequently. Fussy eating in children takes all forms; some refuse vegetables, some are fixated on one item of food and some children will only eat one colour of food. It can seem amusing to others but when you are living with a child who will only eat baked beans, life is tough! Children can also be amazing detectives, tracking down those hidden vegetables or fruit purees disguised as a yogurt. As with most parenting crises, the only real comfort is that it is generally just a phase, connected to your child pushing and stretching the boundaries in all areas of their life. Given the right encouragement and by setting the right example the vast majority of children will develop well-rounded eating habits. That is small comfort though when you are in the midst of these phases so here are some of our top tips for dealing with fussy eaters:
Trick your vegetable detective with hidden veggie sauce. This is ideal for children who will eat things like pasta sauces, bolognese or shepherds pie. Just whizz up leftover vegetables you have (courgette, peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower etc), add passata or tinned tomatoes to turn it red and then make your meals as normal.
Make life easier with healthy swaps. Some children refuse to eat anything unless it’s covered in ketchup. If that’s the case in your house get some Kidchup which is refined sugar-free ketchup for kids. Dr Wills also has a brilliant selection of sugar-free condiments. And for the pasta-loving kids, there is a brilliant selection of pulse-based options available in most supermarkets now – green pea pasta (and the colour is pretty undetectable when mixed with pesto), red lentil pasta (ditto when mixed with bolognese), chickpea pasta.
Mix it up with healthy drinks. If your child won’t drink water keep them hydrated with healthy drinks that are still really tasty. Try herbal teas for kids (we love Small and Wild) or to help them get off fizzy drinks try half orange and half soda water. We find some children really like kombucha too – it is fizzy and you can get some great flavored options. It is a fermented tea drink so full of fantastic bacteria for our tummies.
Involve kids in the cooking. We hear from parents all the time who find cooking with their children makes them more adventurous. A fantastic way to get them involved is to give them their own little chopping knife. KiddiKutter has created a child’s knife which cuts food and not skin (we have one so can attest to this!). They are stocked in Lakeland in the UK and our little cook loves his!
Serve food in big bowls for children to help themselves. Another great tip is to serve meals in bowls in the middle of the family dinner table and ask everyone to help themselves. This changes the dynamic and shifts the responsibility for choosing food on to your child. Provide a selection of foods that you are happy with, and you may get a few nights when they only eat the potato, but be patient! When they see everyone else digging in they’ll soon feel like they’re missing out and want to get their fair share!
Set clear boundaries. Easier said than done, but when things are really tough most families benefit from having clear boundaries around mealtimes and sticking to them. In our family we clear away what is dished up and our little cooks know that is the only thing on offer. If they don’t want to eat it they don’t have to, but there’s nothing until the next meal. If they get down from the table or mess around, then that means they are finished and the meal is over. It would be an understatement to say there were a few tantrums and rumbling tums in the first couple of days, but the key is not to get angry. Once they realise it really is their choice to eat the food and there are no battles to engage in, the dynamic will shift rapidly.
Eat organic when possible. Make sure you are getting the most out of the food your fussy eater will eat. When soil is over-farmed and treated with lots of chemicals it depletes the soil of essential minerals which we would normally get through into the food. Eating organic gives you a better chance of getting more nutrients from your food, so if your child will only eat carrots, let them be organic carrots!
Consider a good old multi-vitamin. We use Nutri Bears to give our little cook a vitamin boost and cod liver oil when he refuses to eat fish! If you want any specific advice about supplements you can get in touch with Helen firstname.lastname@example.org who is a registered nutritionist and designs all of our recipes.