Fussy eating help – plan C!
While working with over 100 families a year we have crafted some simple, practical ways for parents to help their child eat different foods. Following our unique 7-step program is a key element of this, as is making sure that you have the ‘C’ words working in your favour!
Fussy eating help – the ‘C’ concepts
Becoming The Confident Eater was a very conscious decision and that of course, is the first ‘C’ word.
However, we soon realised there were other ‘C’ words that were really important in creating an approach that was supportive of better eating.
We love to share these with parents as a starting point for creating a confident eater.
1. Confident – which is, of course, my favourite! As a parent you determine a lot of your child’s success around food. Although it seems as though they are the fearful/anxious/stubborn ones when it comes to eating – which are probably all true – what you do as the parent can often have the biggest impact.
It’s very difficult to change what someone else does, it is far easier to change what we do. But as I have seen time and again, what a parent does is critically important. It may not have a magical, overnight effect, but as a child’s most important role model what parents do over time does make a big difference.
If you look at the bigger picture, your attitude to things has a long-term effect on how a child reacts, appreciates, and operates around something. This can work both positively and negatively. For example, if you are a huge soccer fan, often a child will be too. If you feel soccer is boring but rugby is the bee’s knees often your children have the same thoughts.
When it comes to food, being confident that your child can eat something new and showing them that you believe that they can overcome their fears and tackle a different dish is a big part of them believing too.
Once you gain your confidence that you are the one best placed to support your child to eat more widely, it is then building your 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 the parent’s court. This does not mean taking away any decision making from a child, and it certainly does not mean you offer either the lasagne or starve as options. In fact, it is the opposite.
What you are looking to do is to create reassuring parameters and boundaries. To put in structure around meals and give your 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, particularly 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 feeding works on a lot of levels.
i) Setting expectations and then living to those expectations every day as best as practicable (there is always life and children that get in the way occasionally).
ii) Creating boundaries around food and making those the family way to operate.
iii) Consistently serving food you would love your child to eat. In my experience this is one of the biggest inadvertent pitfalls parents fall into:
A parent serves a child carrots and they refuse to eat them and so they do not get served again. Or a parent serves the carrots day in, day out for a few months and a child still refuses them, so they stop serving them.
There are three important keys to ongoing serving being effective:
– It is usually not enough to serve food half-heartedly with no real expectation that it will get eaten (see point one!)
– If it is not on the plate it does not get eaten. This means that you serve the foods you want your child to eat and do so repeatedly (think reading and how many years you read to your child).
– It is important to enable your child to engage with the food in a gentle and fun way. Particularly for food hesitant children this is essential and really helps with long-term progress.
4. Change – this again works on different levels.
i) If you are doing 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 the approach and put into place strategies that are going to be a fit for your child. Each family and child are different, so it’s finding ways that work for your specific situation.
ii) Change is the precursor to new. If your child cannot accept change, they are going to find new a whole lot more difficult.
Finding ways to show your child gentle 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 you have a very food anxious child) and then about new foods is essential for progress. Most children are deemed fussy eaters because they can’t eat new foods!
Being comfortably able to touch a food and happily have it on the plate are the first steps towards eating something new. If your child is not able to do this, then you have work ahead to gently move them towards this.
Once a child has mastered foods on the plate the next step is gradually creating the confidence that a food is okay to go into the mouth. This is often something that takes time and repetition, and it hinges on your 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 your child to eat a wide variety of foods happily.
Bonus fussy eating help ‘C’ words
– Convinced – be convinced that you are able to make these changes, be confident and be in charge. Often the first steps are the most challenging. Once you have a plan in place and get rolling, things become clearer and easier.
– Courage – have 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 fussy eating sooner, rather than later. The longer you wait, the more negative habits you have to overcome, often the narrower food choices are and the less control you 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, MA Cantab (Cambridge University), Post Grad Dip Psychology (Massey University), is an AOTA accredited picky eating advisor and internationally certified nutritional therapist. She works with 100+ families every year resolving fussy eating and returning pleasure and joy to the meal table.
She is also mum to two boys and the author of Creating Confident Eaters and Winner Winner I Eat Dinner. Her dream is that every child is able to approach food from a place of safety and joy, not fear.
Learn more about Judith here: https://theconfidenteater.com/about/