Written by Adelle Rutch - Nutritionist
A ‘well’ child will never starve themselves. A phrase I have repeated through my head during times of “fussiness” (ie. normal behaviour) over my parenting journey.
Yes, I am a nutritionist. But this does not make myself and my family immune to the woes that can come with mealtimes. I cannot stress enough though that generally, fussy eating behaviours can be completely normal, and mostly always are!
Many of us come from the era of “eat everything on your plate, don’t waste food and your butt doesn’t leave the table until that plate is clean” mentality, but this simply does not work for little ones. And frankly? It can actually be incredibly damaging.
One analogy I like to provide is: Imagine this - you go to a restaurant, you have been thinking of a meal you’d love to try from there, you ponder over the menu for hours. You get there and are incredibly disappointed when the waiter says no, sorry, you must have x,y,z instead. No questions asked. ‘But I wanted this?’, you say. 'Well sorry, I will be bringing out this instead and you must sit there and eat it all’.
You’d be shocked, right? And would already be resisting. In fact, you’d want to get up and march right out of there right?
Well, our kids are no different!
Debunking “fussy eating” is one of my favourite parts of being a nutritionist with a special interest in kids health. I love to see the way a parent or carers face relaxes, their body language changes and they automatically think “hey, I am not doing such a bad job after all!”. It normalises their experience. Because it IS normal to experience fussy eating. Even when it feels like you are all alone in it.
What we perceive as fussiness is probably not fussiness at all, and the way in which we approach these normal developmental actions can actually perpetuate unhealthy attitudes towards food if we don’t tread with caution. I have had many conversations with new parents or carers that say upon the introduction to solids their baby spits out food, plays with it, pulls funny faces “so I won’t give avocado again, Tommy hated it!”.
This is all developmentally normal, for quite some time in our baby’s life. Their diet has consisted solely of milk feeds and has all of a sudden changed to an explosion of tastes and textures that are wild to comprehend. Plus little ones are also little scientists, so deconstruction, playing and spiting is all part of the process. Changing the way we perceive these behaviours is the very first step! This. is. normal.
Resistance at meal times, battling with veggies and tantrums at dinner can all be managed with the following managed with the following:
Stay calm and watch your language. If you are stressed around mealtimes, your little sponges, aka your kids, pick up on that completely. Do not openly say at the table or in front of others that “Tommy is SO fussy”…after all, what you think - you become. Make it a non-issue if a little one chooses not to eat. Try saying the following instead “That’s ok, what is your tummy saying to you? Is it full?” The same goes for if they just eat a small amount. Kids are VERY intuitive, and as a large portion of our population overeats, it is important to foster and nurture their very clever and innate ability to be in touch with their body and individual needs.
Ignore the words that get you to bite. Keep all emotion out of the dining room. Even if they pepper you with “I don’t like this” “This tastes gross” or even out of the mouth of my very own sweet 4 year old “this looks like cat food” *gasp!* just breathe. Don’t take it personally. Say that that is fine, but there will be nothing else on offer at the moment and that you are quietly sitting and eating your meal/snack.
Try and get older kids to become involved in the discussion around the weekly meal plan and preparation of food. Yes, this can be time consuming, but organisation is key. It can help to have a list of meals written on the fridge for the whole family to see what will be on offer this week and then you have all the ingredients ready to go. Get your kids involved in deciding what they would like and make “popular” kids foods healthy, especially if you are transitioning to a diet where you want to incorporate more veggies etc. Do your kids love nuggets and chips? No problem, make a quinoa crumb on some tenderloins and chop some sweet potato into chips. Pasta? Great! Sauces are incredibly easy to make from scratch and you can create some incredible pestos with blended nuts, vegetables and herbs (stay tuned for our recipes).
Let you kids set the table, choose their cup and plate or even make it fun and sit at a kids table or create a picnic!
Smoothies. Because eating in the heat can be a real drag and eating when you’re a little one with a million things to do can also be a pain! Make their life easier. Smoothies are quick, easy and can be loaded with the good stuff. Get your little one to choose a colour and work with that. If they love purple, add berries such as acai to create the colour. Blue? No worries, blue spirulina will be your friend. This is another super easy one to get them involved in.
Enjoy dining out together where your child can choose what they eat, if this is available to you. Try and make it a special treat once every so often and let your child choose what they would like. If you choose a generally healthy restaurant or cafe, you’re already part way there.
Take a trip to the market, farm-gate or farm tour. Or better yet, grow your own veg! Kids inherently love to learn. Understanding and appreciating where food is from is so important in children understanding what it takes to get food on the table.
Eat early. Witching hour is real! Again, IF this is available to you, try and have kids fed around the 6pm mark, if not earlier. Give them time to sit and eat then get their sillies out before bed.
Touch base with us if you would like support with meal ideas for your family or if you have any questions about children and nutrition. It is just one of the many things that we can support your family with here at Eat for You.
PS: If lunchboxes are coming home full, we can promise you that our Little Hero bar will be gone, nurturing and nourishing for kids no matter what age.