The most common question I get asked is, “How do I get my fussy little eater to eat?” Being a nanny / childminder for over 18 years I may have a few tricks up my sleeve to help.
We all go through picky food days. But when it’s day after day, problems can set in and it can get so frustrating for both parent and smallie. Picky eating is worrying, affecting children’s behaviour, sleep and mood. If it’s something that has started after a tummy bug, the bug could be lingering around. Give the child time to get better. If you’re unsure, always check with your GP. When everything else looks fine and you feel you have exhausted every angle, wipe the slate clean and give my tips a try.
(No smiley-faced food involved, I promise!)
Set meals: Try to have set meal times. Three meals a day and 2 snacks. Avoid grazing throughout the day.
Turn off any distractions: I put away my own phone at meal times (as hard as it is at times, it’s the only way to get some undivided attention). Do a countdown beforehand like, “Dinner is going to be in 10 minutes guys, I’m going to switch off the telly”. Little guys love to know what’s coming next.
Family time: Try to sit down as a family as often as you can. I know this can be an impossible task sometimes but when you can, do it and try to serve the same meal to everyone, if only to save the ‘cooks’ sanity.
Timing: Make sure you have enough time for meals and don’t rush them. That way it’s enjoyable for everyone. Imagine having a coffee in a coffee shop and the waitress wiping the table hurrying you along. She could end up wearing the coffee, to be honest! It’s the same for kids. Allow 25 minutes or so for meals, but don’t drag it out either.
Praise: Avoid using sugary treats as a reward – reward with your time. A game or a trip to the park is perfect.
Limit juice: Try not to let the child fill up on juice or milk throughout the day. Milk is meant to be enjoyed with a meal, not be the meal.. Ideally, a toddler should drink around 2 cups of milk a day once they’ve turned 2. Offer water instead of juice when possible.
No fuss: Try not to make a fuss (one fussy person at the table is enough), stay calm and be matter-of-fact about it. Say things like, “We eat our dinner so we have plenty of energy to play!” or “Our food helps us grow!”
Language: Try not to use phrases like, “Don’t leave the table until your finished!” Use phrases like, “Good boy/girl, stay at the table, you’re doing a great job!”
Portions: Offer small portions and a varied diet. Try your best to avoid plain foods. Put the full meal on the plate. My 3-year-old hates red peppers but I still put them in lasagne. I mix them in so she can’t see them! Be sneaky and hide the veggies when you can. Try to introduce new flavours. There will always be some food kids just don’t have a taste for. Accept that, don’t force it and encourage all the time.
Ready steady cook: Get the kids cooking. Pick out recipes together! Okay, they’re not guaranteed to eat them, but they will give it their best shot. It will be a bit of bonding time if nothing else.
Keep calm, don’t give up! Tomorrow is another day…