Wanna hear my 6 Krazy Tips now on the Radio? Click Krazy Talk on Fussy Eaters
A few days ago, I had a consultation with a mother-of-two who was pulling her hair out because of her children’s fussy eating. She says her 4-year-old used to eat well, but is now becoming more and more fussy as he gets older. And his 2-year-old sister seems to be following in the same footsteps. The list of foods that he ‘approves’ of eating is becoming shorter, and mealtimes have become a stressful experience for all involved.
“Am I doing something wrong?” She asked
First let me tell you that the issue of fussy eaters is probably the most common issue I see among young parents today. That’s the topic all mothers discuss at gatherings, it’s the topic that comes up most frequently in my consultation office, and it’s the topic that’s causing a lot of stress to parents. So my advice to this particular mother was to completely change her approach to her children’s eating.
This is what I told her; I hope it helps you too.
First of all, I asked her to imagine sitting at the lunch table every day with people who were stressed out. Imagine your spouse huffing and puffing and really concerned about what you are eating and you finishing your plate. Then, imagine you have eaten and you are full, but your spouse gets upset that you haven’t finished your plate and orders you to keep eating beyond the point of being full.
“That’s not fun” she said.
I often ask mothers to tell me how they would feel if they have cooked a lovely healthy meal for their child and he refused to eat it or even try it.
The answers I often get are: frustration, anger, disappointment, depression, stress, sadness…
All the emotions parents feel when their child won’t eat are negative. So the child at mealtime is in essence surrounded by negative energy. And children pick that up, whether or not you’re showing it. Without intending to, parents often make mealtimes a stressful experience.
So, Rule #1: Do not attach any emotion to your child’s eating. Offer healthy food at the table and then stay completely neutral to whether or not he eats it. The trick is to offer what’s at the table as the only choice, and the child gets nothing else until it’s snack time or time for the next meal.
Rule #2: teach your child to listen to his body’s signals. If he says he’s full, take his word for it. As adults, we have learnt to ignore that signal so often that it no longer comes and many adults end up eating without the ability to stop. I have a little rule in my house, where if any of my children say they are full after a meal, they are allowed to leave the table (even if they barely ate), but if they leave the table, they are not allowed back if they change their mind. So, they have learned to think twice and ‘ask their tummy’ if they are really full or just want to get to play.
Let it grow on them..
The second thing to think about is even more interesting. Imagine I come to your house and bring a plate full of a strange-looking food item that is green and wobbly. You have never seen or heard of it before. And it smells like nothing you have ever tried. Would you jump to try it? When I ask parents that question, most of them hesitate.
The reason they hesitate is because we need time to adjust to a new food item that is offered to us. Most of our eating habits are learned over our time.
But if I bring this dish to you every day and you see me eating it and enjoying it, it might grow on you and you might be more likely to try it and maybe even like it. It is said that children need to see a new food twenty times before they’ll agree to try it. Most parents give up after the second time.
This brings me to Rule 3: If you want your child to eat healthy food you have to persevere and keep offering it over and over again until it becomes part of their ‘approved’ list and venture into trying it.
What your children see at the table today will be what they will eat as adults. If you want them to grow into healthy adults, you have to start young. And the way to do it while they’re young is by repetition. And together with the repetition rule comes the next rule.
Rule #4: you must become the household marketer for the foods you offer.
Imagine a new mobile phone comes on the market that you don’t know anything about. You wouldn’t exactly run off to buy it, right? But if it’s marketed and presented well, you might see the benefit it might have to you. If you keep seeing it on posters everywhere and hear people raving about it, you might finally buy it for yourself.
The same with children and food. Like adults, children need to know why they have to eat a certain food. What’s in it for them? Bringing a ‘healthy’ food to the table and asking them to eat it because ‘it’s good for you’ has no effect on kids whatsoever.
Presentation makes a big difference, but it goes beyond that.
You must learn how to make food interesting for your kids. Be specific and make it relevant to their lives today. For example, if your boy is into football, you can say “if you eat these lentils, you will get muscles that will help you score a goal the next time you play”. For a girl, you can tell her that salads will make her hair long and lustrous. Both statements are true, by the way. And then when they do score at football or develop great hair, you can say “wow, it must be all that salad you ate yesterday, I can’t believe it!”
Many parents would call that brainwashing but I call it ‘habit forming’. Eating healthy is a skill that many people don’t have; teaching it to your kids is the best gift you can give them.
For more of this good stuff, get my book ‘I Want Healthy Kids’ from Amazon
Or if you’re in Bahrain, you can pick up a copy from iSpace or Zen-Do in Hamala.
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