Kids have the most charming manners, don’t they? More often than not, it’s “URGH! THAT LOOKS DISGUSTING!” Or “Why did you make it like that?” Last week, Nicco told me that my food isn’t as good as the school dinners. I was actually quite pleased about the fact that he rates the school dinners seeing as he gets so much of his nutritional intake from them!

But what is the best way to respond to your little darlings when they are so rude about your food and refusing to eat any?

LESS STRESS
I go into this in detail in my Online Fussy Eater course, ReThink, but the most important thing you can do is keep the mood happy. The minute you take offence to the reaction, everyone’s stress levels rise. And stress suppresses appetite. So don’t react badly.

SMILE
Smiling tricks your brain into believing you’re happy, so smile as you react and you’ll succeed in keeping the stress levels down. Don’t act like a psycho, though, that would be scary.

SHOW UNDERSTANDING
I really love the parenting book No-Drama Discipline by Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. It reinforces that understanding a child’s needs first and foremost will help get to the root cause of a behaviour and aid you in finding an appropriate solution. So, in this case, your child is refusing to eat because they are scared that the food will taste unpleasant and make them feel sick (just imagine the Bush Tucker Trials), so they are asking for autonomy; the opportunity to choose whether they eat it or not.

ALLOW AUTONOMY
You can allow them autonomy by saying “That’s ok, you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to.” Hand over control and see where it gets you over the next weeks, months, years – research shows that children benefit hugely from having choice over how much they eat.

AND THEN REMIND THEM
“Just so you know, there won’t be any other food until…, so make sure you’re sure.”

THEN STICK TO IT
You have to mean what you say and say what you mean, so make sure that you don’t then cave and make a rescue meal when they moan that they’re hungry. Just make sure that you’ve kept a plate of the rejected food aside for them to come back to if they really are hungry later.

AND WHAT OF DESSERT?
I always have plain yoghurt and fruit on offer regardless of how much they’ve eaten of savoury food. There are scrummy milled seeds available to add or frozen berries. And sometimes even honey, so this can be filling, nutritious and feel like a treat at the same time.

AND OTHER PEOPLE’S REACTIONS?
If you have a co-parent or grandparent fussing, explain to them why you are allowing your child to have autonomy and why you want to keep the mood at the dinner table as happy as possible. Some conversations are best had out of earshot of the children, but fussy eating is best improved when all carers are on board with the same strategy.

Sorting fussy eating takes time and a crystal clear understanding of how you will apply your strategy. Sign up to my newsletter to find out when my online fussy eating programme, ReThink, is starting up next. The course will help you figure out what your strategy needs to be and how to tailor it to your circumstances so that it’s effective at getting your fussy eater eating more and you stressing less at the dinner table.