There is not a lot more frustrating in this world than a fussy eater. Oh hang on, make that a toddler who is a fussy eater. Stubborn and unrelenting, the fussy eating mini human will resist all attempts by the parent or caregiver, with no concern whatsoever for their growling tummy or nutritional requirements, to feed them foods that they have decided they do like or will not eat at this particular moment on this particular day. Forget the fact that they ate broccoli by the bucket load yesterday, the fussy eating toddler will resist every urge to down those green trees today until you reach breaking point and either send them to bed hungry (with a belly full of your own guilt), wind up wearing more of the broccoli than you swore you actually prepared, or feeding them fish fingers and tomato sauce for the 9th night in a row.
If the child you care for is a fussy eater, you are not alone. According to a new Australian survey, 85% of parents and carers of young children aged 2-12 are frustrated with picky eating and worried that their child is not getting essential nutrients for optimum health.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics national health survey, only 5.4% of children aged two-to-18 years are eating the recommended 5 serves of vegetables a day, the number one food group on the top of the fussy eaters NO list. Only 1/20 children across the nation is meeting the requirements for both fruit and vegetables, having less than what is recommended by health professionals for good health for their age group, however the survey also shows that one-in-four children aged 5-17 years are currently overweight or obese. As most Nannies are responsible for the nutritional wellbeing of the children (and sometimes the whole family) in their care, measures need to be taken to cope with this fussy eating phase and help children adopt healthy habits and eating patterns for later in life.
Lead by example
Kids should see their caregivers make healthy food choices and, more importantly, that they enjoy them. There is no point in trying to get your child to eat Brussel Sprouts if you can’t stand them, so choose colourful, delicious options that everyone enjoys.
Get Them Involved
Kids love to cook and getting them into the kitchen and preparing their own food is a proven method to follow through to trying new things. If they can see how it is purchased, prepped and cooked, they are more likely to want to devour the end product.
If you’ve tried everything to get your fussy eater to gobble up the good stuff to no avail, try hiding it in their favourite dishes. Spaghetti bolognaise is pretty popular in most homes and can hide a myriad of vegetables in its sauce without changing the flavour. Adding berries or even vegetables to smoothies not only adds great colour and fun, but can boost vitamin content significantly.
Teaching kids to eat whole vegetables and fruits is best (nobody wants to battle with a teenager that won’t eat broccoli unless it’s hidden in a lasagne), so this approach is suggested as a temporary measure to ensure your little ones are getting the nutrients they need to grow.
Have Realistic Expectations and Sing Your Praise LOUD!
Start by asking your child to smell and lick a piece of food, and work up to trying a mouthful over time. Praise your child for any small effort to try a new food and don’t push it if they try the food and still don’t like it - some people just don’t LIKE cabbage.
Make Mealtime Fun
The dinner table can get a little stressful and a lot of the time, being fussy with food is merely a cry for attention and reaction. Giving fussy eating lots of attention can sometime encourage the behaviour so just ignore it as much as you can. Set a limit for meal time to not exceed 30 mins (anything that goes on much longer than this is rarely fun!) and remove all distractions (ie TV, devices etc) so mealtimes are clearly defined as time to sit, talk and eat. Sometimes toddlers are too distracted to sit at the family table for a meal and it can be beneficial to have a little quiet time before meals so they can calm down before eating.
Dont Reward With The Dodgy!
One habit that is not a good one to adopt is rewarding making good nutritional choices with sugar-laden desserts and processed foods. “If you eat your dinner, you can have ice cream!” or “yes you can smother that cauliflower with tomato sauce - as long as you eat it!”. Whilst it can be extremely effective for some families, most toddlers will simply still refuse the food, lick the sauce off or cry even louder at the thought of missing out on their sweet ‘treat’. Stand your ground and follow through - a temper tantrum-filled dinner accompanied by a sugar high and crash does not make for a peaceful evening for you!
For every food, there is almost always a substitute. If your child hates vegetables, offer them more fruit or legumes. If they won't eat yoghurt, encourage milk or cheese and if they dislike chewing red meat, try mince dishes, chicken, fish or baked beans. Don’t give up on foods that are disliked – keep on trying every now and then to help your kids develop their tastes, even for disliked foods.
Is There Another Reason?
Sometimes there is a deeper problem than just fussy eating. Some temporary ailments, such as teething, a sore throat, a blocked nose, or an upset tummy will inevitably affect a child’s appetite. Long term complaints, such as diarrohea, constipation, bloating, rash breakouts or mild allergic reactions and intolerances indicate a more serious reason why your child is instinctively avoiding these foods and should be investigated by a medical professional.
Remember meal times are supposed to be fun and are a great way for families and carers to connect after a busy day. Recognising fussy eating as a simple phase and keeping your cool as it passes will keep you from pulling your hair out today and help your child to make great food choices later in life.