10 things to action after holidays for fussy eaters
Holidays are the time for us all to relax, and not running to routines often feels like a break in itself. But then reality returns and it’s time to re-establish good habits.
There are some tried and tested ways to approach food to support a child to eat competently and well, and to make feeding an easy and pleasurable experience for everyone.
Similarly, expanding the repertoire of foods eaten can be supported with some simple and gentle strategies.
1. Creating an environment conducive to eating. The way we approach food and feeding has an enormous impact on how confident a child becomes and the number of foods that are competently eaten.
For example, a relaxed approach to food always helps. The more relaxed we are, the more likely we are to eat. As does ensuring food is pleasurable for us. When our child sees us eating with enjoyment, it’s easier for them to imagine doing the same.
2. Schedules. It is important to establish specific eating windows through the day, rather than allowing children to graze at will. This works on a few levels:
i) Everyone knows when food is coming.
ii) A child is likely to be hungry coming into a snack or meal.
iii) Prepared food tends to be more nutritious than pre-packaged snacks.
If we have a child who rarely seems hungry or does not look forward to food, schedules are -perhaps counter intuitively – more important.
3. Communal eating. Eating together, especially with an adult present supports eating well. If adults eat at the same time, even if it’s just a few bits and pieces, there is modelling and demonstrating good eating habits.
It is also far more fun to eat as part of a group than on your own. This is especially true of a child who is not particularly into food. Sitting alone, doing an activity that is not enjoyable, is more of a chore than when you’re part of a happy group or pairing.
4. Choices. Offering some options – but not too many – is a great way to help a child become involved in meals.
Would you like carrots or peas or both?” is a great style of question. Choice can be introduced in other fun ways too, “should we eat inside or over there by the trees?”
Offering choices is inclusive. Asking “what would you like to eat?” can often make things more difficult for a picky eater. Or, introduces negatives if their choice is not one that is practical.
5. Control. Often giving over some autonomy is positive. For example, allowing a child to choose what goes onto their plate from a selection we, as the caregiver, have offered.
A child is far more likely to eat if they feel they have some control over what’s happening.
6. Confidence. It is ideal to create a growth mentality putting across to a child they are able to eat a variety of foods well.
Look to be positive about what a child is capable of, maybe not today but long term, as we would with reading or swimming and use affirmative language and actions.
7. Comfort. The most important ingredient for increasing the number of foods accepted and eaten is the frequency with which we serve them.
For example, if a child sees a vegetable three to four times every week, they are far more likely to eat it than if it rarely appears. We do not willingly eat something that is outside of our comfort zone, and it takes time to build this.
The more a child interacts with a food, the more likely they are to eat it too. My advice to parents is always to focus on the interaction rather than the eating. This opens up multiple opportunities for progress for our child.
8. Opportunity. Step one is continually building a comfort level with foods and step two is giving a child multiple chances to eat them. If vegetables are the focus, for example, having them available throughout the day, rather than just at dinner, gives additional options for take-up.
Serving vegetables first, when everyone is most hungry, can also help.
Normalising vegetable uptake in the way we talk, serve, and eat can be very supportive.
9. Change up the food. Giving a specific food a makeover can increase acceptance as can serving with dips or pairing a less favoured with a more favoured food.
Or, coordinating a different method of delivery like skewers/cocktail sticks/muffin tins to boost interest.
Another advantage of loading up, for example, a skewer, is that it helps to increase interaction. Even pulling something off the skewer is encouraging touching and possibly smelling and some flavour trace.
Slurp it up. Serving less accepted foods in liquid form – purees, smoothies, and soups can be easier to manage.
Incorporation, adding less favoured foods in small amounts to accepted foods is often a win. For example, carrot cake, spinach in fritters, or chicken mince in potato cakes.
Behind the scenes involving children in trips to the market, in growing some food like micro-herbs, prepping snacks, cooking, and serving all help to build a comfort level and an interest in food.
10. Fun with food. Enabling play with food supports building a comfort level with it. Interacting with food away from the table can also help with sensory sensitivities.
For example, using uncooked rice or beans in play or manipulating dough, pastry or even yoghurt.
There are many food experiments we can do at home too. For example, dough rising, apples floating, freezing foods (watermelon and grapes work well), and making butter from cream are all simple science exercises that are great fun.
Although jumping back into routines may not be top of the list, simple things that we put into place and do consistently can make a real difference to how comfortably and well children eat.
Children learn by repetition and observation. We may feel like our efforts are going unheeded but if we are consistently creating a positive and opportunity laden environment it will help!
Judith 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/