Fussy eaters

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Parenting -

WHILE there is some­thing spe­cial about watch­ing your lit­tle ones de­velop into their own per­son, there is also some­thing un­be­liev­ably frus­trat­ing as their food pref­er­ences change al­most on a daily ba­sis at times.

This is a nor­mal part of devel­op­ment but can be­come a ma­jor stum­bling block for par­ents when all of a sud­den your child has very lim­ited foods that they will eat. How­ever, there are things you can do to help pre­vent your child turn­ing into a picky eater.

There are lots of fac­tors that can im­pact on your child’s food pref­er­ences. Some chil­dren are “su­per-tasters” and taste more flavour in bland foods which can of­ten im­pact on the types of foods they de­sire. Keep in mind your child is learn­ing about food and eat­ing through more than just taste.

Smell, colour, ap­pear­ance, tex­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment can all play a role in your child’s ac­cep­tance of a new food. Re­search shows that it can take a child seven to over 20 ex­po­sures to a new food be­fore they will ac­cept it. It will take even longer for them to say they like it. That takes a lot of com­mit­ment from par­ents and you may find there is a lot of food be­ing put in the com­post heap in the mean­time.

Like a lot of things with chil­dren, their taste buds, thoughts about foods and pref­er­ences are al­ways chang­ing, so don’t give up try­ing. And as the old adage goes ‘if at first you don’t suc­ceed, try, try again’.

I am a big be­liever in one fam­ily: one meal. As a busy par­ent, it is the only the way for­ward for our house. I am com­mit­ted to not be­ing a short or­der cook. In our house, if you don’t like what’s on the menu you have two op­tions: eat it re­luc­tantly or don’t eat it and go to bed hun­gry. In re­al­ity, I’m a bit of a softy with the kids, but this is the one fam­ily rule that I am hold­ing tough on. And don’t get me wrong, it can be re­ally tough at times. How­ever, I re­ally don’t want spaghetti Bolog­nese to be the only din­ner the kids eat for the rest of their lives so I push through the painful nag­ging. Re­search shows that a habit can de­velop in a tod­dler in as lit­tle as three days, so hold fast for three days and they will quickly learn they would rather eat than be hun­gry! And to be hon­est, so far it has worked in our house for the most part.

Al­though it’s counter-in­tu­itive, al­low­ing your child the right to refuse food ac­tu­ally also goes a long way to cre­at­ing a child/ adult who will eat a wide va­ri­ety of foods. When chil­dren are given per­mis­sion to say ‘no thank you’ and po­litely de­cline foods they are more likely to try new things if they know they won’t be forced to eat it.

It is gen­er­ally veg­eta­bles that are the hard­est sell when it comes to meal times for chil­dren. Veg­eta­bles have unique flavours and are of­ten more bit­ter and have tougher tex­tures. You can tone down strong veg­gie flavours with salt, fat, sauces, bread­crumbs, herbs, cheese and spices ini­tially at

If at first you don’t suc­ceed, try and try again to get your child to ex­pand their food pref­er­ences, says di­eti­tian Aoife Hearne

least to make veg­eta­bles more ap­peal­ing to chil­dren. I have def­i­nitely found that hav­ing Dy­lan and Alva in­volved in the whole meal process re­ally helps. And while I have read tips about plant­ing a mini gar­den — I think just try­ing to get them to the su­per­mar­ket to pick out some of the veg­eta­bles at din­ner is a good and more re­al­is­tic place to start. As they get older al­low­ing them to help wash, prep and stir, and even pick out a recipe ev­ery week can help them feel part of meal­time rather than an­other rule they have to fol­low.

You may be sur­prised what your child is will­ing to sam­ple dur­ing the prep process. Last but not least try to make meal­time fun (if you have the en­ergy for it). Sing­ing silly songs, giv­ing wild ap­plause, us­ing a sticker re­ward sys­tem for veg­gies eaten, or play­ing in­ter­ac­tive games with your child can re­ally help to em­pha­sise healthy eat­ing.

If, like me, there are days when you are just worn out from think­ing about what to cook for din­ner hang in there. Re­mem­ber, just be­cause your child would not eat broc­coli last week does not mean they won’t eat it this week. Rightly or wrongly, I name Dy­lan’s favourite lo­cal hurler to en­cour­age him to eat broc­coli. It seems to be work­ing so far so much so that now broc­coli is his favourite veg­etable — for this week any­way.

Pic­ture: iS­tock

VEGGING OUT: Get­ting chil­dren in­volved in the meal process can help them to eat more veg­eta­bles and de­velop their taste buds.

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