Do ‘help yourself meals’ help with fussy eating?

 The answer is both YES and NO. Let me explain!

So what exactly do I mean by a ‘help yourself’ meal?

Just in case it’s not entirely obvious, it’s where the components of a meal (e.g. rice, chilli, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream….) are laid out separately on the table for your child to help themselves to – rather than presenting your child with a pre-loaded plate. It’s left up to the child which components they take and don’t take.

How can this help with fussy eating?

It takes all pressure off the child to eat any of the foods which is exactly what we want! Encouraging or pushing a child to eat something will backfire big time and exacerbate fussy eating – even if it gets a mouthful or two into them meal-by-painful-meal.

You could buy a Lazy Susan (Ikea sell one!) to entice them to help themselves to foods they don’t normally eat. Children love the process of spinning it to reach the different foods!

All good then … Where’s the problem?

Firstly, what I observe from the videos of mealtimes that clients send me is that they find it very difficult to resist offering their child food from the dishes on the table. “Would you like some tomatoes?” “Are you going to have some cheese?” “Don’t you want any rice?” This turns a ‘help yourself’ meal into an extremely high-pressure meal! The very opposite of what we want!

Secondly … and this is a biggie!

If you always or regularly serve ‘help yourself’ meals, it drastically reduces your child’s EXPOSURE to foods. For your child to become receptive to the idea of eating new and different foods, first of all we need to get them familiar and comfortable with having those foods ON THEIR PLATE. But with ‘help yourself’ meals, it is so easy for your child to completely ignore the foods on the table they don’t want. They don’t need to go anywhere near them! Not quite out of sight, but certainly out of mind.

So to sum up, here are the Do’s and Don’t of ‘help yourself’ meals. 

👍 Only serve them occasionally – once or twice as week.
👍 Think about getting a Lazy Susan!
👎 Never offer/suggest/tell your child to take any of the foods on the table.
👎 If your child puts something on their plate but then doesn’t touch it, say nothing! At least they took it – and that ‘interaction’ with the food is a very positive first step!

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