By Rosemary Marchese
Physiotherapist and mum of 3 fit kids
10 tips for feeding fussy kids
Oh, the fussy eater. I would say I have one of those (out of three kids) but I may have fairly high expectations. And when I say ‘fussy’ that equates to her being one of those kids that would easily take a treat over a carrot (not unusual I know), so we just don’t provide the ‘treat’ options when she should be eating carrot. She will also choose to eat all the protein on her plate over the vegetables, that’s if we gave her a choice. Call me tough, but I call it tough love.
I’m in this parenting gig for the long haul and, like many parents, I am constantly looking for ways to keep healthy foods yum and interesting. The best way that I have been able to achieve that is to really minimise the treat options in my home. Let’s face it, kids are exposed to so many treats outside of the home they don’t need a whole heap, if any, at home.
Tips for feeding fussy eaters
There is no right way or wrong way to do this but these tips may help:
- If you are a new parent…don’t expose them to treats from a young age. They won’t develop a palate for it and will find all the excess sugar and fake food quite strange. Trust me.
- Get rid of junk in the home. Don’t be afraid to give them no other options other than what is on the plate. It may take time but a fussy eater or a child who is used to sweets will find it difficult to transition to healthy food. Their taste buds just won’t enjoy it…until you’ve persevered long enough for them to convert. This may take a while. Remember you are in this for their health.
- Start with adding vegetables within other foods at every opportunity. Yes, if they love Bolognese then grate in some carrots, zucchini or other vegetables.
- Speak positively about food. If you are offering sweet potato cut them into chips, bake them and call them orange chips if you have to! My kids now love ‘orange chips’ more than white potato.
- Cut out the drink fillers that are keeping them full. Stick to water and milk. If they are using milk as a filler and avoiding other healthy options then stick to water only.
- Fill lunchboxes with fresh food only. No ‘treats’ at all. There’s no way a fussy eater is going to eat a salad wrap or carrot sticks if there is a packet of chips waiting. Trust me, they won’t starve.
- Watch out for ‘healthy’ treats in the health food aisle. Many of these are packaged by clever marketers who know just how to get you to buy. A biscuit made of ‘organic flour’ is still a biscuit. Check the packet.
- Get the kids to help with the cooking. This can start out really simple with the younger ones. They could help you make homemade hommus for example.
- Convert them to natural or Greek yoghurt rather than flavoured yoghurt by adding real fruit and other healthy options. My kids now know how to make up their own yoghurt with fruits, silvered almonds, chia seeds, shredded coconut, LSA (linseed, sunflower seeds and almonds) and even cacao nibs. This has happened over time but now they LOVE making their own yoghurt combinations. Flavoured yoghurt from the store is often full of sugar and other nasties disguised in ‘kid-appealing’ packages.
- Beware of kids’ menus in restaurants undoing all your hard work.
Eating out is a fussy eater’s dream if there is a kids’ menu. Chicken nuggets and chips is a regular. While you may be eating out as a ‘treat’ you really need to ask yourself how often you are eating out. If you literally do only go out once every six months then perhaps you can go easy on yourselves. But if you are eating out weekly or more often then the chicken nuggets and chips are really encouraging the fussy kid habits. Even a ‘kid burger’ rarely comes with salad items.
We now often opt for a main menu item and share it between our two younger children (my eldest now often prefers the adult menu anyway because kids’ options are terrible and often too small for him!).
If the kids are too young to read the menu don’t give them the kids’ menu as an option! If you only have one child and are trying to cut back on cost of eating out (because, yes you often need a second mortgage these days just to go out for a family meal) then I suggest going for the healthiest option and perhaps value-adding – so go for the burger but make sure it comes with salad and not just the meat and bread. You’re then teaching them that salad is a normal thing rather than a rarity.
You may want to choose to eat out less often while you are working on the ‘fussiness’. In the comfort of your own home it can be a little easier than in a full restaurant!
Remember why you are doing this, and lead by example. Make nutritious food the norm, not the treats.
Rose is a Fit Busy Mum of 3 fit kids. She aims to empower mums who are time poor. She acknowledges that mums are ‘busy’ but tries to inspire them to regain their fitness through simple everyday habits that she promotes through her book ‘The Fit Busy Mum: Seven habits for success’.