If you think that everyone is going to love food as much as you, you’re wrong. Some of us just have no interest in the stuff other than to fill the gap. In fact, balance in a family almost dictates that if one person really loves food there will be someone else who doesn’t value it at all. So fine for us adults, we can take our chances with sub-par nutrition, but what if your little one is refusing all but their favourite five?
Here are some tips for getting your kids to develop a healthier and broader view of food and to help the fussier ones to expand their palates.
Get your child onto a good multivitamin. That way you can relax about their nutritional balance and take the fight out of mealtimes. The first step to expanding your child’s love of food is to make food something that is fun, relaxed, and choice-driven. Never force a child to eat something.
Get your kids involved with the cooking. Cook, bake and generally have fun in the kitchen together. Even if they don’t eat what you’ve prepared together they will start to have positive associations with food.
Start a veggie garden. Let your child have their own patch of garden where they can grow a variety of vegetables and fruit. Understanding where food comes from and experiencing the joy of your first harvest can go a long way to enticing kids to eat things out of their comfort zone.
Enjoy your food. Yes, you. The more they see you enjoying a variety of foods, the more likely they are to try something new in the future. Eat meals together. Comment on your food – point out what you like about it – the colours, texture, flavours. Pretend that you are a food critic who has just received the most amazing meal ever and let them know why. If you don’t enjoy food then start by examining your own relationship to food before you address your child’s.
Make sure your kids understand digestion. Read books together, find fun documentaries, discuss what happens when your food leaves your mouth. Use metaphors for the little ones if necessary, but get your kids to have a thorough understanding of their own bodies and WHY they need to eat a variety of foods.
Show them other kids enjoying food. Let them eat with other children, invite kids over, watch Masterchef Junior, have cooking parties.
Keep presenting new foods to your child. Even if they only eat their favourite few, just keep offering them some variety. Something at some point will pique their interest, particularly if they keep seeing you enjoying it. Don’t make a big fuss when this happens – just let it be a normal, natural thing for a child to eventually start broadening their reach.
Give your kids some control. Children will sometimes use food as a control if the rest of their lives feel out of control or if they are lacking in independence. Make sure that your children have choices in their lives. Keep as much routine as possible when going through major life changes (death, divorce, moving house/schools, holidays, new babies etc).
Make sure that the food issue isn’t just a symptom of something else. Food aversions often occur alongside other disorders such as autism, sensory integration issues, stress, other medical conditions. If you’re not sure, have your child checked by an Occupational Therapist, Gastroenterologist, Psychologist, Neurologist or Dietician.
Have fun with food. Help your kids to see the joy of food outside of just eating it. Food is a full sensory experience – give them opportunities to explore it as such. Set up a still-life and let them paint a beautiful picture of food, let them sculpt with mashed potatoes, let them roll around in a tub of jelly, make potato stamps. Play games where you identify food by smell or touch. Have a food fight.
Keep in mind that there is a difference between a fussy child and a child with food aversion. A fussy child will probably eat eventually if you just don’t offer their favourites and they get hungry enough, but a child with a food aversion will literally starve before trying something new. But whichever one your child is, every child can be enticed to branch out a bit when you add some love and fun into the food mix.