When I started my business, I wanted to share my knowledge about weaning and meal planning, but the more conversations I had with mums about feeding their families and mealtimes, it became clear that fussy eating has a huge influence on family harmony! As a result, I started doing 1:1 consultations, a coffee morning support group in my local area and spent my time reading up everything I could about how to bring about happy mealtimes. A huge amount of fussy eating is age-and-stage - you have to weather the storm; but the process can actually strip you of any confidence you had in your ability to serve delicious home cooked meals. I've tried to summarise my reading in the top tips provided below. If you're inclined to read up more, look at my recommended reading for further info. And if you're in the thick of fussy eating right now, remember that you're never alone: join our Facebook Support Group also linked below.
TOP TIPS TO HELP CREATE HAPPY MEALTIMES
Provide one family meal
Plan and cook one meal that you can all enjoy. Either plate up, or place bowls of food in the middle of the table for children to help themselves to or be served. In the early stages it will be tough, but you calmly explain that they DON'T have to eat anything they don't want. They simply leave it on the plate.
Make it fun!
If you can, prepare and cook your meals together. Ahead of the meal, lay the table, put your favourite music on, light candles if that’s your thing. Try to make it a relaxed and social atmosphere. Think about some topics to chat about when you’re eating – how was your day? Who did you play with? Do you know how potatoes grow? Or any funny chit chat you can think of.
Never force or bribe
You provide the food; they eat it. If you try to force or bribe your child to eat, it will ruin the fun and relaxed atmosphere you’ve worked hard to create and they'll use your desperation as a way of gaining control over the situation. It can take up to 20 times for a child to decide whether they like something, so give them the time and space to make their own decisions, keep offering all foods and repeat that they really don't have to eat anything they don't want to.
Include a ‘safe’ food with each meal
When planning and serving a meal, include a food you know your fussy eater will want to eat. This way you won’t have full on starvation!
Where possible, eat together
It’s very tough to carve out time in the day to eat together, but try to sit and eat with your children as often as you can.
Don’t list likes and dislikes, just keep serving everything
Variety is key to encouraging your children to eat a wide range of foods in the future. Research shows that if they’re familiar with foods, they’ll be more likely to eat them, so keep exposing them to all food, especially the foods they show an aversion to.
Plan your meals in advance
Meal planning will help to add variety into your diet and will reduce stress levels, waste and therefore cost.
Keep snacks under control
Provide a small snack at around 10.30am and 3.30pm. Offer a healthy drink at other times if they say they’re hungry. Snacking at other times can kill their appetite at mealtimes. Lack of snacks will likely lead to meltdowns… Oh joy!
Be insanely zen
If your child throws a paddy, stay really, really calm and tell them they don’t have to eat anything they don’t want. Tell them you understand how they feel and go back to eating your own food and leave it at that. If you don’t fight them, they have nothing to fight with you about. It may feel infuriating at first, but in the long term, your calm will be infectious.
Suggested reading material
I have brilliant workshop all about Fussy Eating
What to say when…
Sometimes it’s hard to stay calm at the dinner table when your efforts are being rejected! Staying zen and handing control to your child is your most powerful tool. Here are some ways you can communicate this.
With younger children:
"Yummy, I think it looks delicious!"
(adults can model positive talk about the food between themselves)
With older children:
"How about saying– ‘oh, this looks interesting’ or ‘I’m not certain about this, but I’ll try a little bit to find out’"
I DON'T WANT THAT ON MY PLATE
"That’s ok, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to. I’m putting a small amount on your plate so you can try it of you fancy. "
I WANT SOMETHING ELSE
"This is what’s we’re all eating for dinner, if you don’t want it, you don’t have to eat it, but there won’t be anything else."
I'M NOT HUNGRY
"Ok, that’s fine, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to, but we’re all going to sit together for tea and have a chat."
I WANT PUDDING
"We’re eating our mains at the moment, you can have some fruit and yoghurt after we’ve all finished. Let’s all sit and chat together until we’re all ready to start yoghurt."
I WANT MORE
"Yes, it is delicious isn’t it! You can have some more when you’ve finished what’s on your plate. It would be a waste to throw food away."
Get support from other parents in my members only Fussy Eaters' Facebook group.