Tips to Help Fussy Eaters by Dietician Laura Clark

Alexander with food

Tips to Help Fussy Eaters by Dietician Laura Clark.

Today, I welcome dietician, Laura Clark of LEC Nutrition, with her super tips to help support fussy eaters.

Over to Laura-

I’ve taken a while to write this post and ironically this has given me the opportunity to have a reminder of the emotionally draining and challenging times that come from managing a fussy eater.

Alas I too seem to be currently in another ‘phase’.

I refer to it as a phase as most food neophobia is just that – it’s normal and it passes – not always very comforting to hear when in the midst of it though!

For most children it does not spell deep routed psychological issues with food.

But whichever way you look at it, food is such an emotive subject – and children soon cotton onto this, whether it be as a way to exert their control over you or a situation or whether reluctance to eat is a symptom of coping with other issues which might be causing stress or anxiety for them.

Food is vital for growth, development and life. This fact remains no matter what wars break out across the table.

Whatever the reason for the fussiness, the one thing you must not do is make food a ‘thing’

We’re all human and by the very nature of this fact we will not get it right all of the time.

I believe however, it is our parental duty to provide children with the opportunity to consume a healthy balanced diet – this means offering a broad range of foods from all the food groups (and continuing to offer foods previously discarded time and time again)-sigh.

Our second duty is to create and define what ‘normal’ is when it comes to eating habits. We set an example and provide guidance on other habits such as cleaning teeth and checking for cars before crossing the road in the hope that these become the norm for our offspring.

By the same token, if fruit is offered daily – this is seen as ‘normal’ meaning when they’re an adult, they are much more likely to seek out this behaviour (even though right now they might be lobbing that apple straight at your head!)

My job gives me the opportunity to see things from different perspectives– one as a mother of 2 children for whom it is both a pleasure and a pain to feed on a daily basis (who’d pick a dietitian for a mum hey?!)

And secondly as a clinician – there are some striking similarities between those that have poor eating habits and associated poor health in adult life and what they experienced as a child.

So remember despite the challenges children throw into the mix now, what they witness as normal eating habits and behaviours is really what counts because they grow up with these as their default – the fussy phases won’t last forever and the consistency of what’s underneath is what matters most.

Keeping sane and creating your norm in the meantime!

As this is a subject close to my heart I share what works for me but hold my hands up to not necessarily having all the answers.

I remind myself I’m not alone – button pushing, boundary testing is a normal part of child development – my children haven’t invented it just to make my life hell.

We have good days and bad days.

Sometimes I visualise I’m floating away on a cloud or I put music on to lighten the mood, or play stupid games to encourage eating without actively making them think I’m encouraging eating – complicated huh?!

But I try to do whatever it takes to keep things light-hearted and act like I just don’t care (even though I do, I really do).

I resolve to never force – this will only ever back fire and leads to some pretty screwed up eating behaviours in adult life in my experience.

I’ve also lost count of the number of obese people I have treated who grew up in a culture where food could absolutely not be wasted, despite what their inner appetite signals might have been telling them.

Perhaps not such a problem in the presence of war rationing and smaller portions but not so good in today’s obesogenic environment where food is in plentiful supply and we have a biological incapability to cope with the consequences of this.

I vary the way in which food is served – texture and presentation often matters way more to children than actual taste. If it’s pasta I’ll alter the shapes; if it’s carrot I’ll offer grated one day, sticks the next time. If it’s meat it might be minced on a Monday and skewers or meat balls on a Thursday.

I’ve shelved some of my cookbooks and simplified the food I serve – it doesn’t have to turn into a creation – I’m not working towards a Michelin star. I do try to prevent endless hours in the kitchen by cooking the same bulk of the meal for everyone with a few twists added for the adults at a later stage if necessary.

I encourage self- service and involvement in choice – active involvement versus passive child and controlling parent makes a massive difference (sometimes I do just plonk it down and tell them to get on with it – we all have those days!)

I eat with them when I can – and at weekends as a family most of the time.

Again this is about the norm – they might be refusing to eat what is presented but seeing their parents eating it without any ill effects, acknowledges this is normal, healthy balanced eating which they can join back in with, when they’re ready.

I vary location – we go for tea at friend’s houses and vice versa quite a bit – it provides distraction,company and it also takes away the battle ground when someone else has made it.

Friends have been known to high five me under the table as they witness their child chomping down on a chickpea for the first time. It also makes such a difference when it hasn’t been your blood, sweat and tears that have gone into that meal.

So much easier to shrug it off and say ‘oh well’ if there was no effort involved. Remember though, there is still a duty to offer healthy so I try to save my version of ‘no effort’ kiddie convenience for only once a week.

I try to meal plan – just to prevent the headspace of having to think what to make every day – I try to deal with all the headache in one hit. If you have older children involve them in this as much as possible, especially when it comes to their lunchboxes.

I try to give context to the sweeter things in life – what we are creating in the early years is an appreciation of tastes as taste buds are developing.

If a child is given large portion sizes of sweet or salty treats, they will come to rely on this portion size to satisfy their needs in later life – this will become their norm.

Seeing children being given large serving sizes (even by adult standards) of cakes, ice creams, crisps etc. does genuinely break my heart a little.

I can’t put my hand on my heart and say I have never uttered the phrase ‘come on if you eat all that broccoli up, you can have your pudding’ – which isn’t ideal.

The pudding should never be made to sound superior and the savoury course should never feel like the obstacle you’ve got to grit your teeth and get through to get the prize!

I try to be positive about my own body and habits – talk about food and why it’s needed – carbs for energy, protein for muscles and growth, fruit and veg for keeping the bugs at bay, healthy fats for skin and hair etc.

If their norm is seeing mum or dad on yet another diet in which certain foods are apparently evil – what message does that give them?

Love your body, and nurture it through healthy choices, no matter what its size.

Today wasn’t such a good day but I am pleased to say it isn’t my norm. I’m not going to beat myself up, but I am going to get an early night!

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