Spinach, Brussels sprouts, eggs, liver… just a few of the foods which aren’t such a big hit among children. But what is it about certain types of food that make them so unpopular? How you can you get your kids to eat a varied diet? Almost every parent has some trouble with getting their children to eat properly, which is why we have asked the help of our nutrition expert Erika Kővári to talk about what to do if your child is a fussy eater.
First of all, we would like to reassure all those moms and dads who fight a daily battle with their children at mealtimes. Two and three year olds are often particularly picky with their food, but that’s completely normal. It’s part of their development, and there is no need to worry that they’ll be fussy eaters forever. When they’re four to five years old, most children become a bit more adventurous and are far more open to new food and flavors.
At the same time, this fussy period isn’t easy and it’s not just about toughing it out and getting through it, but about dealing with it in the right way. It might feel like your child is on strike at mealtimes and that the foods they are willing to eat are close to zero. This situation requires special care and attention, and can often be very tiring, but under no circumstances should you lose your patience, as it is in this period that your child’s eating patterns are formed.
Ideas to try out:
- Introduce a full range of flavors. When you start feeding your baby solids (usually at around six months), try giving them as many different types of food as possible so they can get to know a wide range of flavors. In this period, they are open to trying new things, so when they start becoming fussy later on they will at least have a wider range of different flavors to choose from.
- Always give them choice. Put a variety of food on the table (only healthy stuff of course!) so that your child can choose what they want to eat and how much.
- Pair up. If you’d like your baby to try something new, give it to them alongside something you already know they like.
- If your child really likes one type of food, then you can prepare other types of food in a similar way. For example, if they love French fries, fry up some vegetables to make homemade chips. If semolina pudding is in vogue, try creating a healthier version: use oats instead of semolina and leave out the refined sugar.
- Make sure the food looks good. It should be colorful, fresh and appetizing. Overcooked broccoli is never appealing to anybody.
- Eat together. It’s great if your little one sees that their parents also love eating healthily.
- Instill a culture of food. As well as shared mealtimes, why not let your child join in with food-related activities as well? Cook together, go to the market together, visit a fruit or vegetable garden or visit a farm where they keep domestic animals (turkeys, pigs, etc.).
Bad habits, best to avoid:
- Don’t force it. To be honest, nothing good will come of only giving your child one type of food and leaving them without a choice.
- Don’t use food as a reward. “If you eat up your spinach, you can have some chocolate afterwards.” Not a good idea, as you’re sending a message to your child that dessert is better than the main course, meaning they will just want the sweet stuff even more.
- They don’t always need to eat up everything on the plate. All you’re doing is making sure your child will feel frustrated every time they eat.
- There’s no need for teething biscuits or any other processed sugary snacks made especially for babies or children. It’s definitely the easier option to open up a packet of candy or children’s fruit juice, but they aren’t part of a healthy diet.
- Don’t give up. If the first time you try to feed them a bit of cauliflower the whole thing ends in tears, don’t worry. Wait a couple of days then try it again, ideally prepared in a different way. With this example, you could try cauliflower fried or as a soup or puree – often the problem isn’t the food itself, just the way it’s made. Try as many different types as possible, maybe the last one you try will be the winner.
This fussy period puts every parent to the test. It’s important not to pick the easy route, you should do all you can to make sure your child develops healthy eating habits. And never forget that no two children are the same and that the reasons for them being picky with their food can vary greatly. (The child’s psychological state can also be an influential factor.) The most important thing is that your child’s weight increases at a normal rate. If they aren’t eating a wide enough range of foods and their weight is far from the norm, you may require the help of a specialist. In this case, a pediatrician, dietician and psychologist can all work together to help you resolve the problem.