If you took a straw poll of parents and asked what the most stressful part of having children is, fussy eating would be right up there with potty training and lack of sleep. Kids are quick to learn that what they put in their mouths is one of the very few aspects of their lives which they have control over, and that they can push Mummy’s buttons by refusing to eat certain foods. Most children go few a certain degree of fussiness when it comes to eating, and being prepared for what might happen will make for a happier household in the long run.
As an adult, we know the importance of a healthy, balanced diet for ourselves and our families. It is important to keep things in perspective when dealing with a fussy child. Some children refuse dinner every evening, but eat well at breakfast and lunch. Over the day, they are eating plenty of the right things so making a fuss over a dinner is pointless. Having the occasional chocolate bar or bag of crisps as a treat is fine, as long as most of the time they are eating well. A child who refuses all vegetables but eats lots of different types of fruit is still getting lots of vitamins and minerals. Keep a diary and you will soon see whether your child’s diet is balanced or not.
Even as an adult we don’t eat every food. Personally, I can’t stand goats’ cheese or lamb, and I wouldn’t take kindly to someone forcing me to eat it. I follow the same theory with my kids; I expect that they will try new things, but if they genuinely dislike something then I won’t serve it again. Some of the most commonly rejected foods are fish, vegetables and meat. There are ways to get children interested in food and eating in general. Kids love being in the garden and may be more likely to eat carrots or sweetcorn if they have planted the seeds and watched the vegetables grow. Dig out the fishing tackle and get down to the local pier and spend the afternoon with the children trying to catch supper, with the promise of fish and chips should they be successful. In the long run, buying some basic fishing tackle or seeds is cheaper than continually throwing food away and cooking something different.
It may be a little underhand, but if your kids repeatedly refuse to eat something you feel they should be having, then you can hide it or disguise it as something else. Most kids like pasta with a tomato based sauce and it’s easy to puree up some courgettes, carrots, peas, or most other veg to mix in. If your blender can make a fine enough puree, you can even mix in some meat or fish into the “tomato” sauce. Soup is another great way to get vegetables into children without them noticing, and they particularly like dunking chunks of bread into gloopy soup for lunch.
Morag Peers is the mother of three young children who has plenty of experience of dealing with awkward eating habits.