Do you face temper tantrums at teatime? Here’s how to get even the fussiest of children eating…
With the country in the grip of a childhood obesity epidemic, encouraging our kids to eat a healthy, balanced diet has never been more important. But what happens when you’ve got a fussy eater in the house?
Most parents will know just how tough mealtimes can be. From screams of ‘I don’t like that’, to tears and tantrums at the table, getting your child to eat their five-a-day can feel like an uphill battle.
Yet with record numbers of children classed as obese by the time they leave primary school and a spike in childhood diabetes, the key to a healthy future could be down to what’s on our children’s plates.
In her book, The Wholesome Child, paediatric nutritionist Mandy Sacher shares recipes, tips and tricks to encourage a healthy and varied diet for even the fussiest of eaters.
Start as you mean to go on
Mandy believes that the journey to eating well begins from a baby’s very first mouthful.
She says: ‘As a first-time parent, I realised the temptation for junk food starts from the beginning. But we have to teach our children, just like we teach them to do so many other things, how to eat healthily and enjoy it.’
Babies will always have a stronger affinity for sweet foods, but it’s a parent’s job to train their taste buds to enjoy other flavours.
Mandy says: ‘It’s common for babies to reject certain foods first time round. It can take up to 15 times for a baby to become familiar with a certain food.
‘But when you’ve got a little baby there’s such an opportunity to create a varied diet, so don’t just stop at the usual vegetables like peas, carrots and potatoes.
‘If you only have three vegetables they’ll eat to start with, and they reject two, then you’re only left with one. But if you have 10 or 12, and they reject two, you still have lots of options.’
Don’t get stuck in a food rut
It’s all too easy to find yourself, and your family, falling into the habit of repetitive eating.
Mandy’s tip is to introduce one new meal each week.
By using free time at the weekend to try out a new dish with the kids, the list of meals they enjoy will continue to grow.
If your child insists on only eating their favourite food, Mandy suggests making slow, gradual changes using similar dishes.
‘If a child will only eat chicken schnitzel, then why not introduce something similar like chicken stir-fry,’ she says.
But never hide vegetables they don’t like in their favourite meals.
Mandy says: ‘You never want to take their favourite food and tamper with it because you’ll break their trust.’
Get kids involved
When it comes to changing your child’s mind on their least-favourite foods, it can seem impossible. But encouraging them to try new things doesn’t have to happen only at the dinner table.
‘If you’ve got a fussy eater who refuses to eat certain foods, the first goal is getting them into the kitchen,’ Mandy says. ‘Even with young toddlers, give them a bowl of water to help you wash the vegetables.’
Another way of introducing kids to new foods is to bring them along to the supermarket to help you with the shopping.
Make mealtimes enjoyable
Every parent with a fussy eater knows how quickly dinnertimes can turn into a meltdown. But taking the pressure off children is key.
Mandy says: ‘Having a family meal should be a positive experience. Fussy eaters are so used to being shouted at, their cortisol level spikes and they become very anxious.
‘Make mealtimes fun and enjoyable again. If a child doesn’t want to eat something, try not to get angry and frustrated. Take it away and say well done for giving it a go. Then try again a few days later.’
Be a role model
It’s important to use positive language when it comes to food, and avoid passing on your dislikes to your children.
Mandy says: ‘You can’t tell your child not to eat junk food if they always see you snacking on chocolate and crisps.’
Plus, using your kids’ idols can be a useful way of encouraging them to eat new foods.
Mandy says: ‘Whether it’s their favourite football player or a celebrity they love, it’s all about teaching them about the power of food to fuel their bodies. By using a role model in their life, you’re turning nutrition into something they can understand.’
Edited by Jess Bell
Mandy’s book, The Wholesome Child, is available from Amazon, priced £19.50.