With the holidays as a distant memory and the transition back into the reality of the everyday routine, we are reminded of the myriad of things we find more than a little challenging as parents. Not to mention that with all the beautiful holiday memories, some less wonderful habits may have been picked up by your little angel (let’s just say that my son successfully survived on chips, biscuits and toasted sandwiches for two weeks #motheroftheyear).
Eating habits are no exception here: after a number of days of an interrupted routine and being able to eat all the things that make the lives of us parents easier, it is time to bring on the food that may no longer seem to taste as good.
Thankfully, this resistance may last only a few days while you do everything in your power to find your way back to some kind of normal routine. Now that you have the good news, you need to be prepared for potentially some other hurdles around mealtimes as you strive to get your child into the swing of eating a balanced and nutritious diet (refer back to my last post, which unpacked what this fussy eating business is actually all about).
Here are some tips that will hopefully make your dealings with fussy eating slightly easier in your year ahead, to keep in mind when your little munchkin seems to have their boxing gloves on at mealtimes:
- Timing is everything. You need to learn to read your child. Whether or not it is time for a meal according your daily routine, if your child isn’t in the right frame of mind you may as well be taking the nutritious meal you just prepared and throwing it down the toilet. An overtired child and an overly hungry child are both a recipe for disaster. If your child is tired rather push their mealtime out a little later and if your child is starving then give them something small to snack on and keep them busy while you are getting their meal together (I generally opt for something not too filling like a soft cheese wedge, a fresh piece of fruit or some spaghetti noodles to keep my son entertained for a few minutes).
- Do not over-react. If you have landed up with some mac and cheese all over your face or poured onto the floor, do not burst into laughter or gasp in horror at the mess on your new carpet. As soon as your child realises that they are going to make you laugh (or be dramatic in any way) when they behave badly, they will associate that bad behaviour with a seemingly positive reaction from you. So resist the urge to burst into laughter, even if you really want to!
- There’s no one size fits all. Don’t compare your child to your friend’s kid who eats broccoli by the kilo, or the child who eats ‘absolutely anything’ from your playgroup. Every child is different, with their own likes and dislikes. Your child is a little individual, so throw out the comparisons and the benchmarks and set your own.
- Give them freedom of choice. That’s not to say making a different dish every time they turn their nose up at a meal, but rather asking them to choose some elements around their meal time to get them involved i.e.: chicken or beef; a red bib or a blue bib; their yellow feeding spoon or the purple one; banana or pear for dessert etc.
- Make mealtimes fun! Get your child involved in the process of picking out ingredients, to preparing and then serving up the food. If they are still too young to get involved, talk them through everything you are doing to create the most delicious meal possible for them. Adding different toppings to meals (like pizzas, yoghurt, porridge or rice cakes) can also be a fun activity.
- Make storytelling a part of your mealtime conversation. By telling your little one animated and excited stories about where a particular food comes from or the types of animals that eat that food, you are going to get them interested in something that previously received the cold shoulder.
- Make the benefits known. Explain to them that they need a variety of foods to help them grow and get strong. Don’t hold back on telling them all about specific health benefits that different foods are able to give to them i.e.: yummy orange full of vitamins/delicious yoghurt for strong bones and teeth.
- Don’t force the issue. If the meal you have lovingly prepared has landed up in smithereens on the floor or your child just seems to be impossible to please, never feel as though you need to force them into eating a meal. Mealtime should never become a battle field. You want your child to associate a happy and relaxed occasion with all mealtimes.
- Don’t underestimate the power of praise. If your child branched out and ate some of the broccoli medley you put on her plate or ate an entire bowl of spaghetti bolognese with gusto, tell her how clever she is. You want your child to have positive associations with eating, so that they remember these positive feelings the next time they sit down to a meal.
- Don’t throw in the towel so easily. Experts have recommended that a child should be exposed to a new food at least ten times before it is ‘liked’ by them. If your little one isn’t keen the first time you give him something, don’t let that stop you from trying again. Children need to be exposed to as many foods as possible and the younger the are when you do it, the better! Us parents are quick to say that our children ‘aren’t into something’ after one or two attempts that didn’t go the way we had imagined. We need to be tancious and mindful simulatenously by offering a specific type of food at just the right time – you will probably be surprised.