One of the key things to do to conquer (and prevent) fussy eating is to keep exposing your child to a wide variety of foods – and the ‘Jam Tart Tray Dinner’ is a wonderfully fun way to do this!
Once in a while, for dinner or lunch (perhaps on a back-to-school-Sunday-night, while they’re watching a film, or when you’re too shattered to feel like cooking!) take a jam tart tray and fill each hollow with a different food. Rootle around in your fridge and cupboards and make it as colourful and varied as you can.
Most of the foods should be ones they are familiar with, and it’s good to include one or two sweet foods – but most important of all, make sure you put in a couple of wild cards! Foods they have never encountered on their own plate before. Smoked salmon? Passion fruit? Pickled onions? Hedgehog flavour crisps? Or simply a different type of apple to the one they usually insist on.
Then, before you let them tuck in, tell them there are just two (very important!) rules about how you eat a Jam Tart Tray Dinner:
1.It’s entirely up to them what they eat and don’t eat (no pressure at all!) but they mustn’t remove any foods from the tray.
2.They can eat the foods in any order and combo they like – sweet foods before (or with!) the savoury foods is absolutely fine.
Just seeing, smelling, touching a food is the first step to making it a familiar and ‘safe’ food for them to eat. You shouldn’t point out the new foods and tell them what they are unless they ask you – in which case simply tell them in a neutral way. Never add comments like, “It’s really nice”, “Try a bit” or “Mummy loves it” for them to rebel against!
Now leave them to explore and enjoy…
A snippet from a sandwich shop. A five-year-old boy and his dad were eating toasties, that came with a bit of salad garnish.
Boy [picks up slice of cucumber]: What’s that on it?
Dad: It’s just a bit of salad dressing.
Boy: I don’t like it.
Dad: Look, I’ll scrape it off for you. There.
Boy: I don’t want it.
Dad: Just eat it, please. I mean it. You’re becoming a fussy eater and I’m not having it!
Uh oh! Dad used the F word.
Odd as it may sound in all this infuriating flurry of fussiness, the one word you should never call them is ‘fussy’!
Research shows that children internalize any label you give them – Lazy? Shy? Chatty? – and live up to it. So once they know you’ve put them in the Fussy Eater category, you’re in big danger of them wearing that badge with pride! How could I possibly eat cucumber with salad dressing on it? – I’m a fussy eater, don’t you know! How can I be expected to eat this cheese that is a completely different colour to the one we normally have at home? – I’m a fussy eater, don’t forget! You’re joking if you think I’m going to try that fish, right? I’m one of those kids, remember! The fussy ones. It becomes an excuse, a way out.
So never actually tell your child they’re a fussy eater – or let them catch you telling someone else!
Swearing loudly about their fussy eating in private, however…that’s absolutely fine. 😉
Have you read Things not to say #4?
… or tales from a vegetarian restaurant!
True story. Last Saturday I was in a vegetarian cafe having lunch, sitting at a long table shared with other customers. On either side I had a set of parents, each with a toddler about 15 months old.
Toddler #1 – let’s call him Billy – was in the pushchair and having food squeezed into his mouth from a pouch. Easy peasy cheesy pasta with lots of veg, it said. Occasionally one of his parents offered him a forkful of their own food but he refused and gestured for the pouch instead.
Toddler #2 – let’s call him Bobby – was in a highchair next to his parents and had a side plate in front of him, filled with all sorts of random bits and bobs from their plates: vegetarian bake, cucumber, bulgur wheat, tomato, bread, broccoli salad. He was feeding himself with his hands.
Now which toddler do you think is the contender for Future Fussy Eater You Can’t Take To A Restaurant, Billy or Bobby?! Place your bets now!
When you’re eating out with your toddler, the very best approach is to have them up at your level, ask for an extra plate, put different bits of your own food on it and let them help themselves.
If there are two of you, they may end up with some very odd combos – roast potato next to a slice of tomato next to a piece of scampi next to cauliflower cheese?! – but they won’t mind. It gives them a wide variety of tastes and textures to explore and and keeps their palate wide open. It also means that they are ‘joining in’, learning to eat the same food as you, alongside you.
And not that they are a separate species that require separate food!
It really does all boil down to this:
You’re in charge of what food you serve.
They’re in charge of whether they eat it.
Yet so much of the time the reverse happens:
We ask them what they want to eat. We follow their preferences. We adapt our food shopping and cooking to try and please them – in the hope that they will eat it happily. We give them lots of control over what goes on their plate.
Then once the food is served, we encourage, nag, plead, bribe them to eat it – in the hope that they will eat more of what we want them to eat. We try to control what they put in their mouth.
This only makes things worse. The secret is to do it the other way round. You decide what you’re going to buy and cook (and sometimes it may be their favourites). But once the food is on the table, you hand the control over to them. You leave them to decide what and how much they eat of it – while you chat about other things. It may sound crazy, it may sound counter-intuitive, but it soon makes a difference.
“It has revolutionized mealtimes in my house” said one parent of an extremely fussy two-year-old. “I had amazing results IMMEDIATELY,” said another.
Find out the full details of how to put this plan into action in Getting the Little Blighters to Eat.