Dealing with fussy eaters – both big & small

Having been a fussy eater for most of my life (ridiculously I was in my 30s before my diet was remotely sensible) I’m determined to ensure that my girls don’t go down that path. Being fussy can be really tough!

Here are a few tips to help you deal with fussy eaters (big or small) and to set good habits as you wean your children. (You’ll see there’s a real theme around involving them and giving them choice.) If you have anything to add, please do comment below!

I’m responsible for grocery shopping, meal prep, setting the tone at meal times and leading by example in terms of food choices, habits & mindful eating. The girls are responsible for deciding what they eat and how much. That doesn’t mean that I cook multiple meals catering to their every wish. Just that they get to choose which parts of the meal I’ve cooked that they want and in what proportions (within reason). So instead of plating it all up and handing it to them, I regularly put everything in bowls on the table for them to serve themselves. And I avoid asking them to finish their plates. I want them to stop eating when they’re full. (And if they’re faking because they’re trying to get to pudding quicker that’ll backfire when there’s no more food available until the next meal time).

Similarly, when I’m doing the shopping list or deciding on what’s for tea, I ask them what they want from choices that I’m happy with. Even the tiniest of people hate being told what to do all of the time!

They regularly help me with food related jobs (both big and small and they have their own kids knives for chopping) and this typically increases their enthusiasm to eat and to try new things. (It also tends to involve them proudly telling other members of the family that they cooked dinner, milking thanks for it and basking in the glory!) 

Talk to your children about food. Every meal time in our house has some discussion about green, amber and red foods (i.e. eat as much as you like, eat some, eat less), what certain foods do for our bodies and how they prefer to eat those foods. (Oh and it usually ends with Thea singing Mr Potato songs from Peppa Pig about fruit and vegetables keeping us alive!)

For example, Lily will eat pretty much any cheese, but only if it’s grated. She won’t touch it in blocks. Thea likes small plum or cherry tomatoes, not big ones chopped up. And in the great scheme of things, neither of these things is difficult for me to deal with to ensure they eat well without any fights at meal time.

We regularly add something new to the menu and/or shopping list so the girls get variety. And again, it really helps when I get them to choose which new thing we’re going to add. 

Invariably the first time it appears the reaction is still “I don’t like that.” We always explain that it’s important to try new things. It’s okay to not like them and you don’t have to eat anything you don’t like, but you’ll never know if you like it if you don’t try!

Lily is fabulous with this and positively tries everything saying “yum” in anticipation (which she then backtracks on if she doesn’t actually like it), whereas Thea is guaranteed to tell you “yuck” even before it touches her mouth! The continual encouragement though and the repeated appearance of certain foods means that we eventually get there with most things though. (They do say you have to be exposed to a taste at least 12 times and up to 30 times to truly decide if you like it!)

We also have a snack stash in the fridge (with pre-prepared veggies & fruit, yoghurts, etc.) and the cupboard that they can get snacks from. It’s entirely up to you whether you want to give permission for snacks or whether you want to experiment with them getting snacks when they’re hungry so they learn to judge this for themselves. The deal is when they’re gone, they’re gone though, so no topping it up until the next shop.

Finally, we do have things like chocolate, crisps and ice-cream in the house because quite frankly they’re yummy and the girls see these foods elsewhere. We simply limit how much they eat and how often, explaining why these are not as good for our bodies as other foods.

I’m not for one minute claiming that I have this cracked and that my kids eat perfectly all of the time – they really don’t! But this process has really worked for us, makes mealtimes much more pleasant and my eldest is a fabulous eater who makes great choices independently. We’re still working on the little one 😉

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