Author: Sylvia Snowden – Educator Support Officer

Date: 28 August 2020

Can we start by asking ourselves, “How important is it that we feed children a diet that is healthy and nutritious?” As parents and educators, I believe it is our responsibility to ensure that children are offered the best diet possible; a diet that will support their development and assist them to grow to become healthy adults.

Is this always possible? The short answer to this is absolutely not as mealtimes can be very challenging for some families and can leave children, parents and educators feeling stressed, anxious and upset.

So we have a “fussy” eater in our lives. It is normal for children to be fussy eaters. It is part of their development and it’s a way in which they can assert their independence and control. Children can be very strong willed when it comes to making decisions around what they will or will not eat. The good news is that they will probably be less fussy as they get older.

What can we do? There are several strategies that can provide assistance. Here are some tips:

  • Make mealtimes regular and social occasions. Provide a pleasant place to eat, create an unhurried and relaxed atmosphere, sit with and engage in conversation with children. Offer a variety of nutritious foods from the five food groups at each meal and show children that you are willing to try new foods.
  • Start small, do not over complicate the plate and do not insist that children finish everything on their plate. Praise children for any small effort to try new foods. Make healthy food fun, get children involved in the preparation, selection and cooking. If you have a herb or vegetable garden, give them the opportunity to collect food that can be used from the garden.
  • Give children the opportunity to make their own choices from a range of healthy food. Allow them the opportunity to serve themselves if they have chosen the food they put on their plate. This may encourage them to eat more.
  • Encourage children to try as many new foods as possible. Keep offering foods that have been refused in the past as one day we may be successful.
  • Set a limit of about 20 minutes for a meal. Anything that goes on for too long can become a chore and loses its appeal. If your child has not eaten anything in this time, remove the food and do not offer any more food until the next planned meal.
  • Try not to bribe children as this can lead to manipulative behaviour.
  • The most important thing to remember when dealing with the challenges of having a fussy eater is to not force a child to eat. Punishment for refusing to eat or try new foods can be detrimental to a child. It can cause anxiety and a real fear of food and mealtimes.
  • Get children outside in the fresh air and do some physical exercise. This will contribute to a healthy appetite.

Children’s appetite can be affected by their growth cycle and are likely to eat one day and not necessarily the next. So on that note, here’s to happy, healthy mealtimes.