In this, the third installment of a three part series on Winning Over Picky Eaters, Desi Horsman helps us to look at nurturing a healthy relationship with food.
You need to be very deliberate in your approach to nurturing your child’s relationship with food. A clear strategy should include the following tactics:
- When introducing a new food, offer a little taste but don’t make a fuss about it. It can take anything from 10 to 15 times of seeing a new food before a baby or toddler is willing to try it.
- Choose your battles by giving into a few preferences and choices which support their independence and help them feel a bit more in control. [E.g no crust on the bread etc.]
- Encourage your child to touch, smell, and lick a new food without having to take a bite if they are not ready to.
- Babies and toddlers should be allowed a little bit of food play during meal times to experience a food in different ways and make friends with it.
- Your toddler may not like a certain texture or colour of a food and refuse to try it claiming not to like it. There might be specific tastes your child has an aversion to. Be sensitive and patient and don’t offer that food again until few weeks later.
- Mash and mix foods they don’t normally eat with foods they do.
- Encourage them to dip a cracker into a food they normally would not taste. Often they will dip and eat a food as long as they don’t have to touch it. It helps to use utensils with foods they are nervous about touching.
- Eat regular small meals throughout the day and dinner should not be too late when they are overtired. If blood sugar has dipped they will crave sweet foods and starches for a quick fix and reject the healthier alternatives.
- Children’s tastes change. One day they love it and the next day they hate it.
- Don’t feed your toddler unless it’s a meal that needs some help. Encourage them to eat on their own. Give your baby finger foods, and little bits that they can eat with their hands and a second spoon if you are feeding porridge or a puree so baby can feel empowered.
- Drinking sweet drinks and milk during the day will make them less hungry at mealtimes. If a child does not have a good appetite but is still drinking milk, cut that down as much as possible.
- Little ones are very good at regulating their food intake if they are given the chance. They know when to eat, what and how much.
Options Not Alternatives
- Keep offering a variety of healthy foods even if they are not eating them. Introduce lots of different choices in small portions.
- Alternatives should not be offered. There should always be a variety of food so that a child can have enough to eat if they don’t like one of the foods offered. Alternatively fruit is the only other food that can be substituted for dinner because it’s readily available and all you need is to wash or peel. Cereals and biscuits are not an option. If you offer to cook something else you will land up cooking different meals for each member of the family. Serve one food at least you know they will like.
- For your child to have some autonomy in deciding on meals, give two to three healthy options to choose from instead of asking what they would like to eat.
- Appetites change so they may eat a lot less on some days and more on other days. Or more at one meal and less at another.
Inconvenient Interruption to Important Mission
Many toddlers want to run away as soon as they see their high chair. Try fitting a chair to the dinner table, have a picnic or sit at a small table. If they are too distracted or hyped to sit at the table with the rest of the family, try something calming before dinner. A washing hands routine may help. Maybe they can sit for a little while and then potter around and come back for a few bites. Ease out of a game into mealtime. Don’t stop them in the middle of fun for a meal; that already sets the tone for that meal. You don’t want them to rush a meal or not eat because they want to get back to their game. This becomes very stressful for the slow eater – especially if other siblings finish eating first and then go off running around and playing.
Food is meant to be enjoyed, but a child will not have a good relationship to it if it’s stressful at mealtimes. They have to see you enjoying food too and sharing your food. Toddlers take notice of what you do and want to imitate you.
Keep offering a wide variety of foods and encourage a sense of adventure. Do not offer unhealthy foods in your desperation to get your child to eat. Weigh up the short-term satisfaction of getting something into their stomachs against the long-term goal of helping them develop healthy eating habits for life.
Your job is not to make your child eat but to provide healthy food and a relaxed environment. The more you worry and stress at meal times the more your child will become a resistant eater and sometimes – this creates a bigger problem than there actually was. Be very aware of your eating habits and your relationship with food. Children do what you do and not what you tell them to do!
Expert Contributor: Clinical Nutritionist, speaker and wellness expert – Desi Horsman
Read the rest of this series