(The following is a collaborative post with Laya Healthcare)
Mealtimes can be tricky for parents, especially when you have a fussy eater. For this reason, Laya
Healthcare has come up with these tips and tricks to help you get your child more interested in
Making food look appealing is just as important for children as it is for adults. Looking and
thinking about food is one of the first stages of digestion. If the food looks attractive and fun children
are far more likely to want to eat it. Giving individual portions helps make food more appetising
and can make a meal appear less challenging. Mini versions of traditional meals i.e. shepherd’s
pie, baked in small dishes are always popular. Allow children to assemble their own food. Lay out
a variety of ingredients for your children to put together. This works very well with pizzas and
wraps. Fruit chopped into bite sizes and placed on a skewer or a straw is another helpful
Offer your child food that packs lots of nutrition into small doses. This is particularly good for
toddlers who are often as active as rabbits but seem to eat as little as mice.
Nutrient-rich foods that are attractive to children include avocados, pasta, broccoli, peanut butter,
brown rice, potatoes, cheese, chicken, eggs, fish, sweet potatoes and Greek yoghurt.
Chatting to your children about food is great but that alone does not provide any experience. You
could tell your three-year-old that Spinach will give them muscles like Popeye and that carrots will
help them see in the dark, however, you will be competing with TV ads which may tell a different
story. With both sides telling different tales about what food they should choose to put in their
body, who will your child believe?
Involving your child in the process of planning what you should eat is an important step in raising
healthy grubbers and children that accept what is on the plate for breakfast, dinner and lunch.
Give them a choice
Giving your child a choice between green beans or broccoli can make them feel good about
putting that particular vegetable onto their plate. Children like to decide what they put into their
own body and giving them choice over food options is a wonderful step in stopping the need for
them to tell you “no” just for the sake of telling you so.
Exposure is half the battle – Giving your child food options before it lands on their plate will assist with mealtime mania. Surprises are not for everyone, and especially food surprises. As well as creating ownership over
the meal and reducing disappointment from dinnertime, it also makes favourite dishes come with
a level of anticipation…great for the digestive juices.
Start with a simple choice – Do they want green beans or broccoli with dinner? These small options will allow them choices between ingredients that do not change the overall meal but will allow them to feel a small bit of
ownership over the dish.
Go shopping together – Point out the vegetables they can choose from. Do you think we should have red or green
cabbage for dinner tomorrow? Moving the choice towards the shopping experience opens up the
possibilities more for them and it’s a wonderful time to talk about food options.
Once your child gets a sense for choosing side dishes, start asking how they would like it
cooked. Do they want to steam the broccoli or cook it in a casserole? This helps them explore
new ways that they might like a portion of food they previously thought they didn’t, and it can help them
think about how a food’s taste and texture changes depending on how they are prepared. One of my children loves steamed carrots, but roast them and he won’t even look at them!
Planning with your child can be great fun and when you make it part of your weekly routine your
child will look forward to doing it regularly. It helps to spark an interest in what they are eating. Each Wednesday I sit down and plan our food for the week ahead, always with some input from the children.
Plan a colourful dinner. Children are drawn to bright colours. Luckily bright coloured fruits and
vegetables are not only delicious but nutritious. Get your child to think of meal ideas including as
many brightly coloured fruits and vegetables as possible.
Pull out cookbooks with colourful pictures or go online and find recipe websites that have pictures
with each recipe. Ask your child to pick a few recipes that look good based on the
picture. Children are more likely to try something new if they see a picture that looks good to
them. For the younger children, cut out pictures of all different type of foods and make a
scrapbook of different menus.
When the meal is over, chat about what your child liked and disliked about the food so that their
comments can be taken into consideration for the next meal they plan.
As you are aware, I’m a fan of getting kids into the kitchen. Children are more likely to eat their own cooking/baking, so where appropriate, let your picky eater help prepare the food. It can be a fun affair, however, patience in coping with the helping hands from small children will often determine how much you are able to tolerate. Cookie cutters
can be used to create edible designs out of foods like cheese, bread, thin meat slices or cooked
lasagne. Get your child to tear and wash lettuce, wash potatoes or stir the batter. Put batter in a
squeeze bottle and let your child watch as you squeeze the batter onto the pan in fun shapes,
such as heart, numbers, letter or even your child’s name. They can also be involved in setting the
table, whether that is laying out mats for under the plates or setting out cutlery or
crockery. When children are part of the preparation they are more likely to feel part of the meal too.
Here are some tips to try out when cooking with your kids!
- Dress your child up in chef’s clothes, hats and aprons and allow him to get stuck in.
- Children have short attention spans so give them quick and easy jobs. Keep the
- Give age-appropriate duties
- When children get excited they may forget steps
- Young children need constant supervision
- Expect spills and messes and give children jobs to help clean up
- Again give plenty of praise for all attempts at cooking.
- Focus on hygiene and safety and lay ground rules. Teach children to tie hair back, roll
sleeves up and remove jewellery.
It is never too late to start involving children in your family meals. You will be making memories
and teaching lifelong healthy habits at the same time.
Mealtimes are one of the keystones of family life. Whenever possible, get the whole family eating
together. This can make a difference where fussy eaters are concerned. Show your child that
mealtimes can be fun and relaxing and not a source of anxiety. Take time to chat, rather than
focusing on what is on the plates. Talk about the events of the day. This will help to take the
pressure off children who may feel that what – and how much – they eat is being scrutinized.
When you have small children, it is important to make an effort to be consistent in this respect
and that structured mealtimes are in place. Ensure that they are not too close together as
children may not be hungry or too far apart as children may be snacking or have low blood sugars
affecting their behaviour.
Give your child an advance warning when a meal is coming up. “Supper is in ten minutes, please
finish up your game and wash your hands”. Do not expect them to drop what they are doing and
run to the table immediately. Give them time to prepare themselves for the change in activity.
Keep food servings age-appropriate. Wondering how much to offer? A young child’s stomach is
approximately the size of his fist. So serve small portions at first and refill the plate if your child
asks for more. The less is more meal plan is more successful with the fussy eaters.
The “bite-rule” works with some kids, as well. “Take one bite, two bites….” (However far you think
they will go without force-feeding). The bite rule at least gets your child to taste a portion of new food,
while giving them some control over the feeding.
Rules which are good life skills also:
- Ensure children wash their hands before they eat
- Encourage them to sit at the table and not eat elsewhere
- No meals in front of T.V. Turn telly off during meal times
- Encourage children to stay at the table until you tell them they can be excused. Be realistic!!
- Please and thank you are important words to learn
Mealtimes are not only about getting the right amount of food into your children at the right
time, they are opportunities when families sit down together, share the day’s news and enjoy
each other’s company.
Help your child explore new foods and achieve better nutrition with these tips & tricks from Laya
Healthcare. You can explore their site for more information on family health insurance cover options or get a health insurance quote online today.