It’s kind of funny, but many times when I mention this blog to people, particularly mothers, they respond with;
“Oh that’s great, i’d love to be able to get my kid to stop being so fussy”.
I realized many people often think ‘The Fussy One’ is designed to help others overcome their “Fussiness” with food.
If you have been a reader of mine for a while you will know that I really don’t have the answers to help children start eating their greens. In fact, if you read my bio you will discover the reason behind my Fussy name is based on the fact that I too was one of the fussy kids these parents want help with! In truth, I find that forcing myself to try new things has been the only way to actually improve my diet. Something that took me 25 years to realize!
Having just got married and with plans to start a family of our own soon, I found myself questioning parents about how they get their children to try new things and eat various items. I mean if I am so fussy, I can only imagine what my children will be like!
Below is a list of some of the suggestions people have given me for their Fussy Little eaters.
1. Force them, tell them they won’t get dessert or be able to get up from the table if they don’t eat the item.
Ok, so as a fellow fussy eater, I don’t like this option. At all. I think it’s cruel and starts a bad relationship with food. There definitely should be an element of authority at the dinner table, but asking a child nicely to try something and assuring them they can spit it out if they don’t like it is one thing…but saying they have to eat it all, or punishing them if they don’t only causes anxiety over food and should be avoided in my opinion.
I have a terrible memory from when I was about 7 years old and staying at a friends house over night. The friends mother insisted I eat a ball of pickled red cabbage on my plate. I remember I felt so awkward and upset because it wasn’t my parent telling me I had to, and I’d been taught it was always important to be polite as a guest. The smell of the cabbage made me feel sick so I held my nose and put it in my mouth, the taste was vile and salty and I remember wanting to cry. When the mother turned away I secretly spat it out in my napkin and told her I was full. Have I ever tried cabbage again? Absolutely not. More than 20 years later I can’t bring myself to even smell red cabbage…or anything pickled for that matter. I’m pretty sure it all stems from that one incident. So in conclusion, forcing anyone to eat something they don’t want to is never going to end well.
2. I’ll give you a dollar
This makes me laugh when I hear it, because it comes from my Father-in-law who told me when my husband and his brother were younger he would bribe them with money to taste an item they were unsure of. “I’ll give you a dollar if you just try a piece of this pear”. A part of me (the greedy part) likes this idea, because I probably would have forced myself to try more things if I had been offered money. Most kids over the age of 8 will be happy to gain money i’m sure but I worry bribing with cash opens up a whole other can of worms, like if the child becomes smart enough to pretend it doesn’t want to eat something in order to gain money. It also won’t work for very small children, my nephew (5 years old) couldn’t care less about money right now, but he sure doesn’t want to eat almost any of what he did a few short years ago.
3. Make the food fun!
This is a good one. I’ve had a few mothers mention it to me which reminds me of my mum who used to make faces out of my food. I must have been very young when she did this, because I barely remember it now…however mash potato spread in a circle made the face, there were peas for hair, and a sausage for a mouth (cannot for the life of me think what the eyes would have been…sliced sausage circles maybe?) I know I went through a phase of not wanting peas, but this got me trying them again and was a great way to get me to eat certain items I usually ignored. The Sausage was sometimes swapped out for fishsticks (fish fingers in UK) and there were bacon and egg type faces I recall at breakfast time. For younger children I believe this is a good method to get them at least tasting items. Also makes the whole idea of ‘food time’ more approachable.
When looking for a photo example online, I came across this ingenious item now available to buy (if they had only had these in my day! haha)
If you want to buy one for your child, they are easy to find on amazon. (Site link: FACE PLATE)
4. Lead by example
This will be a tough one for me when we have children, but child specalists often recommend eating the “questionable item” in front of a child to show it’s actually good. Making over exaggerated moans of yumminess also helps them become more interested in said item. However, for me, if it comes to certain vegetables I may have to get the husband involved, because even I am too fussy for that! haha
5. Let them help you make the food
Children are more likely to want to eat food they help prepare, according to my friend with 6 year old twins at home (and various other mothers on the toddler forums!) I love this idea. Provided no burns or cut fingers happen, I think it’s a great idea to get a fussy eater (or any child!) involved in the preparation of food. I used to help my mum bake cakes, sifting the flour, stirring the icing and licking the bowl after it’s use! I was a great help as you can tell.
Cakes are one thing, but preparing a salad or a healthy snack would be just as exciting for a child. I don’t have children of my own yet, but I do know that children I have baby sat for in the past certainly love getting involved with messy activities! So rolling fresh dough for pizza would be a great introduction to cooking. A vegetable pizza (which can be re-named “Rainbow pizza” so it’s more appealing) can be a great meal option, because it’s healthy, fun to make and can be colorful with the vegetables you choose. Ingredients like squash, tomato, bell peppers, broccoli and cheese (the more color the better-a lot of small children are drawn to bright colors in their food) are a good idea. Test them out, lay out a number of items and see what they are inclined to add on their pizza as a topping…they will be more interested to taste the end result of what they put their effort in to making.
6. What they don’t know, can’t hurt them!
I hate to say it, but it’s true. If I don’t know what something is before I try it, i’m more likely to enjoy it. My husband does it to me all the time with his morning smoothies.
Eg. Me- “Ooh whats in this one?”
Husband- “The usual things you like…banana, apples, mango, pineapple”
Me- “Oh, it’s great”
Husband- “… kale and Spirulina”
Seriously?! I certainly wouldn’t have tried that on my own accord. However, when mixed with items I enjoy he can mask the “questionable” ingredients. This would work for little ones too, as creamy smoothies are always yummy as a snack.
Blended or ‘Cream of’ Soups are a great option for that too. All sorts of healthy vegetables can be added to a tomato soup or potato soup and the end result is a healthy and nutritious way for a child to get it’s 5 a day in.
Another ‘sneaky’ option is the name you give an item. When my fussy nephew was in the States we went somewhere that served ‘Veggie chips’. I made a point of neglecting to use the word ‘veggie’ and he loved them. I’m sorry to say, sometimes a little deceit goes a long way to trying new things!
7. Let them be fussy!
This is an odd one to put on a list of how to help a child get over fussiness when eating, but honestly it can end up sorting itself out without the parent having to worry. I was fussy for years, I think I pretty much lived on pasta and cheese for the majority of my childhood,with the occasional apple…but i’m here, i’m alive and now i’m older my taste buds have changed and i’m willing to try just about anything. So most fussy eaters will usually grow out of it.
The other thing to take in to account is a condition many toddlers get- ‘Food neophobia‘. I found this really interesting when researching picky eaters online. Food Neophobia is basically a ‘fear of new food’ that a lot of toddlers start to get around the age of two. Doctors say it usually starts when very young children don’t want the World they know around them to change. Deciding not to try new things means that what they know will stay as it always has been.
Ironically, the same condition is often found in the elderly who often become stubborn about food because they are stuck in their routine and don’t feel a need to disrupt that.
Change is often scary for anyone, so a change in diet for some children really can cause anxiety.
If you have any suggestions of how to help a fussy little eater, please feel free to comment below with your ideas! :)
Photo credit for fussy girl image: http://www.news.com.au