Fussy eating help – plan C!
While working with over 100 families a year I have crafted some simple, practical ways for parents to help their child eat different foods. Following the 7-step program is a key element of this, as is making sure that we have the “C” words working in our favour!
Fussy eating help – the “C” concepts
Becoming The Confident Eater was a very conscious decision and that of course, is my first “C” word. I soon realised there were other “C” words that were really important in creating an approach that was supportive of better eating.
I love to share these with parents as a starting point for creating a confident eater.
1. Confident – which is, of course, my favourite! As parents we are the ones that determine a lot of our child’s success around food. I know it seems as though they are the fearful/anxious/stubborn ones when it comes to eating. Which is probably true, when something is a challenge it is going to be difficult for us.
But, when we look at the bigger picture, our attitude to things has a long-term effect on how our children react, appreciate and operate around something. This can work both positively and negatively. For example, if we’re huge soccer fans, usually our children will be too. If we feel that soccer is boring, often our children have the same thoughts.
When it comes to food, being confident that our child can eat something new and showing them that we believe that they can overcome their fears and tackle a different dish is a big part of them believing too.
Once we gain our confidence that we are the ones best placed to support our child to eat more widely, it is then building our child’s belief that they can too.
2. Charge– most parents I speak to about fussy eating tell me sheepishly when I ask, “who is in charge of food?” that it is their three, five or ten, year old, that is!
A big part of making progress is to make sure control is well and truly in our court. This does not mean that we take away any decision making from our child and it certainly does not mean we offer the lasagne or starve. In fact, it is the opposite.
What we are looking to do is to create reassuring parameters and boundaries. To have structure around meals and give our child the comfort of knowing what is going to happen when, and also that their needs will always be met.
I have seen how comforting routines around food have been, especially for children who are food anxious. Knowing what is going to happen, when and that there will always be something they can eat, takes a lot of the worry from the table.
3. Consistent – being consistent around foods works on a lot of levels.
i) Having expectations set and then living to those expectations every day.
ii) Creating boundaries around food and making those the family way to operate.
iii) Consistently serving food we would love our child to eat. This, in my experience is one of the biggest pitfalls we fall into as a parent.
We serve our child carrots and they refuse and so we stop serving them. Or, we serve the carrots day in, day out for a few months and our child still refuses them, so we stop serving them.
There are three important keys to this being effective:
– If it is not on the plate it does not get eaten. This means that we serve the foods we want our child to eat and do so repeatedly.
– It is usually not enough to serve food half-heartedly with no real expectation that they will get eaten (see point one!)
– Enabling our child to engage with the food in a gentle and fun way really helps with long-term progress.
4. Change – this again works on different levels.
i) If we continue to do the same thing over and over again and are not seeing results, then it is probably time to look at other ways to do things.
I appreciate that most parents have tried many strategies and many different things to help their child eat more comfortably. Parents of picky eaters work so hard on this, I know!
But it is about looking for effective ways to change our approach and put into place strategies that are going to be a fit for our child. Each family and each child is different, so it’s finding ways that work for our specific situation.
ii) Change is the precursor to new. If our child cannot accept change, they are going to find new a whole lot more difficult.
Finding ways to show our child change, even within a very limited diet is a core component of making progress.
5. Comfort – building a comfort level around food in general (if we have a very food anxious child) and then about new foods is essential for progress.
Being comfortably able to touch a food and happily have it on the plate are first steps towards eating something new. If our child is not able to do this, then we have work ahead to gently move them towards this.
Once we have mastered foods on the plate it is gradually creating the confidence that a food is OK to go into the mouth. This is often something that takes time and repetition and is hinges on our approach. See points 1 – 4!
There are more “C” words that I love and feel have an important place in long-term plans to support our child to eat a wide variety of foods happily.
Bonus “C” words
– Convinced – being convinced that we are able to make these changes, be confident and be in charge. Often the first steps are the most challenging. Once we have a plan in place and get rolling, things become clearer and easier.
– Courage – having the courage to tackle fussy eating. It often seems like a huge mountain to climb, and that it is all going to be too difficult, if not impossible. I know, from my experience, this prevents many parents from taking action.
My advice is always to tackle it sooner, rather than later. The longer we wait, the more negative habits to overcome, often the narrower food choices are and the less control we have over the situation. If you feel that it’s impossible to do on your own, then please do look for support.
– Creative – this is not about creating a Van Gogh picture from lettuce at every meal. But it is about looking at the picky eating challenge from new angles and being open to thinking and approaching food and feeding from a new stance.
If you feel you’d love some help putting this all into action, please get in touch. I am always happy to help and support you.
Judith is mum to two boys, a tween and a teen and is the author of Creating Confident Eaters. My dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
I delight in showing parents how to get picky eaters eating in simple, gentle, practical steps that anyone can master. I graduated from Cambridge University and have qualifications in nutrition, parent education and am a trained telephone support worker for ParentHelpline. I am currently working towards qualifying as a psychologist. I would love to understand more of the “why” behind fussy eating and to eventually spearhead research in this area.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/