Dealing with fussy eaters can be very frustrating! Trying day in day out to get them to eat the meals you make, constant dinner battles, worrying about their nutrition and even feeling guilty, it’s not pleasant. Well don’t lose hope! The first thing to remember is there is a lot you can do with kids as regards nutrition, without even going near their food! Leading my example, surrounding them with positive influences and educating them in a fun way about nutrition can set a seed with them and get them thinking (even subconciously) about food and health and can lead to better decisions down the line. Heres our top tips for handling fussy eaters and your stress levels!
Lead by example
The absolute best way to convey any message to kids is by letting them see you do it yourself. So focus on your own food first and that change alone is going to be a great education for your kids. They want to be like you and do what you do, so even if its not an instant change it is definitely passing a good message on to them, even subconsciously.
Get them involved
Getting kids to help with the shoping, prepping, cooking, baking is a great way to get an interest up in them around food and cooking and it reduces the mystery and fear around it all. With no pressure on them to even taste if they dont want to, but just to get involved and it can be a fun family activity too. Making a game out of identifying different veg in the supermarket or simple tasks like peeling veg, kids will love taking part.
An outing to a country market can be a nice family activity for everyone and a great learning experience. There are markets running in most areas now one day or other in the week. This can be a great outing for all ages, with loads of great produce on offer, you can even talk to the producers, kids can really get a feel from where the food comes from and what is involved in producing it. Other options like local producers, farm shops and open veg gardens, usually welcome visitors and this can be a great place to get great quality food at good prices.
Simple things like reading books about nutrition and health can be a fun activity to get kids thinking about food. There are loads of kids books out now. Also on TV or online now there are cartoons and on devices loads of kids apps. As they get a little older then there are any amount of interesting movies and documentaries that you can watch together. Even colouring pictures, games, quizzes, there is so much available online nowadays and these will all be instilling a positive message.
Grow your own
A fantastic project to start with kids is to grow something yourselves. Anything at all, no matter how small the garden, even a pot of lettuce or parsley, they will be amazed to see it grow and they will be so proud to see something they grew from a seed going into dishes!
Reading labels & other activities
An activity kids can find fun is comparing labels of products, purely for interest sake, they will be amazed to see one pack has more sugar than another for example. A good way to do it is to get products that they like and then a similar more healthy alternative and compare products, it can get a discussion going and you never know where that might lead! A simple sugar demo is another activity that is very visual and effective with kids. Simple lay out products on a table, check the label for sugar content (4g=1 tsp) and spoon out that amount of sigar in front of the product, different cereals, biscuits, yogurts work well.
A cooking class or grow your own veg class could be a fun kids or family activity. There are classes like these running all over the country, if you do a search online or ask in your local area or health shop. Grow HQ in Waterford is definitely worth a visit, they offer great classes and information and you could visit the cafe and veg gardens too!
Tips on actually getting them to eat:
Well this could be another blog of its own, but heres some helpful hints!
Quality – focus first on what they are actually willing to eat and try to improve the quality of that. So if its chicken nuggets, make your own. If its a ham sandwich, try better quality bread (even get them involved in making your own!), boil a ham and sqitch spreads back to plain old butter. Yogurts, switch to a good quality natural probiotic yogurt and add your own fruit or blitzed berries and as little sweetness as you can get away with, whittling it down as their taste buds adapt. The better quality produce is going to be higher in nutrients and less damaging to their gut and health.
Try and try again – when introducing new foods, it can take up to 20 times trying something for a child to come around to it, sticker charts, little rewards can work really well to intice them to try, or they find Youtube clips on tasting foods, blindfold tasting etc very entertaining so maybe you could try an activity like that at home
Hidden goodies – a great way to boost nutrition, is in some food that they do actually like, start to ‘hide’ a small amount of something healthy, maybe blended veg or fruit or even bone broth, building it up very slowly, up are seriously boosting the nutritional value of the meal and their tastebuds will actually start to change over time. A tomato pasta sauce with a little hidden onion, garlic, courgette, pepper, carrot can give them a serious nutrient boost
Take your opportunity – we are all talk about mindful eating, not eating in front of screens etc but when it comes to very fussy kids this could actually work in your favour the odd time. Those moments when they are slightly zoned out watching TV slip a little bowl of chopped veg or fruit in front of them and you might be surprised they they might start munching when they are distracted!
Renaming – Homemade juices and smoothies are a great way to hide some goodies also, renaming a veg & strawberry smoothie with a (little avocado & coconut oil!) a ‘nice strawberry milkshake’, even the tiniest amounts of the good stuff you add in are going to have a benefit.