Food art for fussy eaters
There are a million strategies for working with a fussy eater and helping them to eat more variety. Some of these are great ideas, some not so great, and many work well, but only if executed in the ‘right’ way.
When I work with families, I put a lot of emphasis on the approach to take with a picky eater. The way we speak about and act around food and eating can make a huge difference to outcomes.
The more anxious or rigid around foods our child is, the more critical it is for us to nail that approach. My favourite example is:
“Would you like to try this?”, when talking about a new food that a child has not eaten before. The answer is invariably “no”. Which never surprises me! If you don’t like water, why would you say yes to a trip to the swimming pool?
Conversely, there are occasions where that question is entirely appropriate, and I would encourage parents to ask it. But it very much depends on the situation.
Similarly, when we have a child who doesn’t eat widely and well, and especially when they are little, we are often encouraged to make smiley faces or even entire scenes out of Frozen or Spiderman from food
Again, food art has its place, but it is in no way shape or form a magic bullet. Just because I spent 4 hours recreating Paw Patrol characters, does not mean it will get eaten.
As we are coming into Easter and school/Kindy holidays, I thought I would though showcase some fun creations (it is something I love doing and exercises my rarely used creative side) while also giving guidance around how to approach it as effectively as possible.
Fun Easter food art for fussy eaters
1. Presentation – how a food looks makes a huge difference to the way that we think about it. Think about the difference between a lovingly crafted dessert and a bowl of stew.
Good first impressions are essential for all of us, but especially for fussy eaters. If something looks really appealing, it is far more likely to be at least considered.
Colours are important, think how bright all toys are for littlies! Using pops of colour and contrast does make a difference to how a food is perceived.
I freely admit to adding a cherry tomato or a sprig of parsley to my boy’s plates when they were little so it ‘looked better’!
We eat with our eyes first so sometimes upgrading the pineapple to a chick is worth a whirl… The more tempting it looks, the more likely it gets eaten.
2. Curiosity. Part of the challenge with picky eaters can be interest in food. It may be food full stop, or it may just be the foods we’d like them to eat.
Piquing their interest so they are at least looking at a food can be a valuable first step. I always think of eating as a progressive list of things that enable a child to finally put something in the mouth. The first step is being pleased it is on the table!
Do not underestimate the importance of that interest in a food, especially if it is a food, we would love for them to become comfortable eating over time.
For some extremely fussy eaters, just being able to have a food near them, or on their plate is a big win.
3. Fun. Food and eating should be pleasurable, so making it a good experience helps. Introducing fun into the mix is a great way to do this.
It doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. Just using a cookie cutter to make a new shape or adding a raisin eye can make all the difference.
Helping our child feel more positive about meals is always a core goal. We are far more likely to eat if we are relaxed and happy. If they are looking forward to coming to the table because we’ve done something special, then that’s huge.
Even if we are using foods, they are comfortable eating, the change in shape is still important and valuable. Bonus points if they become enthusiastic about meals and eating!
4. Interaction. When I work with families the focus is always on interaction. How are we able to support a child to be more engaged with foods?
We do not eat foods we are not comfortable with, so helping our child eat more widely and well is done by gradually and gently building more of a comfort level with a range of foods.
If that is done with a fun factor, then even better. If our child is happy to touch or explore foods, then we are helping them to become more comfortable with those foods.
5. Food art. Sometimes it is about our child being able to do things themselves too. The anteater was a design my son created when he was younger.
I used to run food art sessions in schools, Kindy’s and with community groups. I was always delighted when children ate things they would never normally tackle because the food had become part of their design, like celery leaf trees!
We of course, make this accessible for our child. If they are super uncomfortable around fruit then perhaps, we provide pancakes, cookie cutters and then jam, choc chips and Vegemite, for example, so they can embellish their cut outs.
If they are comfortable around fruit but not yet eating veggies, we can provide a mixture of both.
Do not discount the importance of touching foods, exploring foods, and having ‘investment’ as it’s something they have done for themselves.
These are both quite complex, but you could easily make an outline using food or, just draw a pencil outline and have your child fill the egg shape. It’s great fun and a lovely way to serve fruit, veg or anything else from pasta to pretzels.
Food art is NOT however, a magic bullet. Just because we do make something look amazing, doesn’t mean it will get eaten. In fact, it can do the opposite if we are not careful.
Spending 2 hours creating a magnificent design and having it rejected out of hand can be really demoralizing. Further, if we approach an exercise like this with the express intention of our child eating something new, they will sense that from a mile away.
‘Doing’ food art to force eating could put a lot of pressure on some children and make them less likely to engage and therefore less likely to eat.
Also, if we measure everything in terms of whether our child eats something or not, we are likely to be constantly disappointed and that gets very tiring.
Instead, if it’s fun, they engage, they smile or even better they interact with the food, then we have achieved something great and should celebrate that.
If you’d like more food art ideas, please feel free to get in touch for age-appropriate ideas.
Judith, MA Cantab, 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/