Help, my child’s a fussy eater!

Do you have trouble convincing your child to try new and different foods? It could be their gut. ‘Fussy eaters’ often have an imbalance in their gut bacteria, so balancing this with foods like fermented vegetables and probiotics (all rich sources of ‘good bugs’) can go a long way towards fixing this. It’s better not to get anxious or frustrated about fussy eating habits. If your child sees that their food preferences have this effect on you, it will only reinforce the problem. Just keep persisting with offering new foods—it’ll eventually pay off.

Some parents decide that they would rather give their child the sweet, processed foods they ask for (e.g. white bread sandwiches, sugary snack bars, chips) so that they at least eat something, but something is not necessarily better than nothing. Kids will always eat when they are hungry. To give a little tummy a rest for a while, is not a bad thing either. Like we said—kids will eat when they are hungry!

Be a healthy food role-model   

So, how do you encourage your children to eat a richly varied and balanced diet? The answer is simple: be a healthy food role-model.

Don’t let your child rule the pantry and meal times with unhealthy food preferences. If you role-model healthy eating; discuss nutrition and the different food groups with your child; and provide healthy snacks (e.g. raw vegies with hummus/avocado dip, fruit, seed crackers, raw seed/gogi berries mix etc) in your child’s lunch box, they will *eventually* try out these new foods.

Make meals fun! Encourage kids to ‘eat a rainbow’ at every meal, ticking off how many different colours they eat. You can even run a family-friendly competition to see who gets the most rainbows in a week! Get creative with colour charts for this one!

Remember to be firm, patient and encouraging with your kids. Introducing new foods is a gradual process. This is especially true with fussy eaters, who are accustomed to eating in a very specific way. If your child is fussy, there are things you can do to ascertain the health of their gut bacteria. Complementary health professionals such as Naturopaths can order ‘poo tests’ to check the levels of bacteria in your little one’s tummy. This can then be treated accordingly.

If you gradually replace your child’s preferred snacks/meals with healthier alternatives —having an ongoing conversation about nutrition and the importance of eating a balanced diet — you will empower your kids to make healthy dietary choices in the future.

Tiina, our Naturopath, can also aid you with specific diets, including recipes tailored to your needs (e.g. gluten free, paleo, gut healing, GAPS, etc).

Change your meal-time ritual

 Teaching your kids about healthy eating habits may also involve changing your meal-time rituals. Here are some handy tips:

  1. Involve your children in shopping and preparing meals

If your kids ask for sugary snack foods, gently guide them in the direction of healthy alternatives. Teach them about the ingredients needed to cook healthy, wholesome meals, and encourage them to learn through hands-on experience in the kitchen.

Take your kids to farmers’ markets and encourage them to pick out some healthy foods they’d like to try. By helping with meal preparation, your kids will feel a sense of accomplishment and may be more willing to try new foods.

  1. Try not to use food as a punishment or reward for your child’s behaviour

If you threaten to withhold food from your child due to bad behaviour, they may develop anxiety and fear about food. If you use foods—particularly sweets—as a reward for good behaviour, your child will assume that sweets are more valuable than wholesome meals.

Instead, treats can be as simple as a punnet of strawberries, raspberries or even some home popped organic popcorn with a dash of good quality salt for a mineral boost. There aren’t many kids who will turn down popcorn!

  1. Eat meals as a family

Where possible, switch off the TV and sit down together for meal times. Make meal times as stress-free, restful and conversational as possible. Your child will form positive, happy associations with eating and meal times.

  1. Watch portion sizes and snacking 

Be aware of how much your kids are eating. Make sure nutritious snacks are available, but be careful snacking doesn’t spoil your child’s appetite at meal times. If your child can’t eat a certain portion size, don’t force them to “clean the plate”. If you teach your child to ignore feelings of fullness, they may become an overeater. Teaching kids to listen to their body will be a life-long, valuable health tool.