Tips for overcoming picky eating behaviours in children
Is your child showing signs of picky eating? First, know that this is incredibly common in young children. In fact, fussy eating is quite often about control and independence, and it will pass. The fact is, most children become less fussy as they grow older. However, I know how tough it can be when your child is being particularly stubborn around food. Mealtimes can be incredibly emotive and stressful for both you and your child, but you’re not alone in this. If you’re a parent of a picky eater, know that you’re doing the best you can.
Having been through it with my own daughter - and on some days, still going through it - I wanted to share my top tips for overcoming picky eating behaviours in children.
5 tips for overcoming fussy eating
Skip the label, opt for affirmations
Firstly, it’s important not to label your child a “fussy eater” as you could inadvertently create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s the behaviour, not your child. You want to cultivate a positive relationship with food and one of the ways you can do this by changing your lexicon. Creating affirmations such as “I can try new foods” or "I like to eat fresh and healthy foods" can help to build a more positive relationship with food.
Empower your child
Mealtimes are known as a battleground for parents for a reason. Empower and involve your child in what they eat. Get the recipe books out and your child involved in preparing meals to give them hands-on time with their food, so it doesn’t feel so unfamiliar to them. They will feel so proud of helping to make something, they will be more likely to eat because they made it.
Keep calm and carry on
It’s important not to amplify your child’s decision not to eat something, into something bigger than it is, and therefore associating mealtimes with being a stressful experience for them and you. If they refuse something, calmly take it away and try again another time. You're building a lifetime of positive and healthy eating habits and that is a gradual learning process.
If they are old enough you may want to unpack why they don’t like something. Ask why they don’t like it before you take their plate away - was it the way it looked, or have they tried it before? It’s important to not minimise what your child is feeling. Listen and engage with them, and you might be surprised by the answer - I discovered adding grated parmesan or a small knob of butter to vegetables makes all the difference to my daughter.
Take baby steps, together
I wouldn’t blame parents for sticking to what they know their children will eat, but the key to overcoming fussy eating is exposure to a variety of foods and starting small. It can take children up to 15 tries before they form a preference for something, so consistency is key.
When you want to introduce something new, make sure it’s not their main meal, and involve them. Tell them they may expect something a bit different on their plate, so you don’t catch them unawares.
My daughter is four, and like most children her age, she has a love-hate relationship with certain vegetables and proteins. We’ve been able to gradually introduce more foods that she'd previously discounted by talking to her about the nutritional benefits different foods can bring. For example, green vegetables are good for healthy bones and hair.
If they refuse something, calmly take it away and try again another time. You're building a lifetime of positive and healthy eating habits and that is a gradual learning process.
Find the fun in mealtimes
Make mealtimes fun and a shared experience. Think about how you can creatively present or plate meals, or change how you talk about food. We introduced my daughter to tacos with a Mexican themed night where we had mariachi music playing in the background, and gave her the opportunity to pick and choose what she wanted to eat.
We also included some elements that I and my husband hadn't tried before either, including a jalapeño and pineapple topping and new lime crema, and shared our thoughts on the look, the taste and texture.
Children model behaviour and I find children are usually more open to trying new things when they are sharing the experience with others, so where you can eat the same food and with your children.
If you’re still finding things difficult, hypnotherapy can be an incredibly effective tool in overcoming fussy eating. You can contact me, and other hypnotherapists working online and across the UK, right here on Hypnotherapy Directory.
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