Whether your child is a known fussy eater or has suddenly become one over night, the meal time battle takes no prisoners and can strike with little or no warning. From protests against meal choices to riots when served on the wrong colour plate (yes, really) meal times can be exhausting to say the least. Then, no sooner have you got over the breakfast battle it's practically time for lunch! If this sounds all too familiar then don’t worry, we are here with plenty of tips and tricks to make mealtime fun again.
Give Them Control (Or So They Think)
A classic mistake with fussy eaters is giving them too much choice from the offset, then giving in to demands too easily. Let's set the scene. You have prepared a meal that when placed in front of your toddler, is refused. Obviously this is less than ideal but after a long day, you’d do anything for an easy life, so rather than start yet another battle you find yourself offering another meal, then another, then another, until finally they eat something. . .anything! But by this point, meal time is disrupted, yours is probably cold, not to mention the carnage that is most likely erupting between siblings! Not exactly the family meal you had envisaged.
So what can you do? Well, a way to eliminate this and ultimately waste is to give them control of what they eat . . .or so they think anyway. I know this may seem a little controversial but stay with me on this one. The goal here is for you to remain in control while letting your little ones think they have control, and here's how we do it. Offer your child a choice of two, possibly three options that you are happy for them to eat, but have either already prepared or is quick and easy to rustle up. That way they have made the decision but you remain in control of what they eat, genius! For example breakfast could be a choice of porridge, toast or a smoothie. Lunch could be a choice of pasta, frittata or soup. Then your evening meal could be a choice of mini pizzas, shepards pie or spaghetti bolognese. This may not be possible at every meal time, but give it a try, we guarantee it will work wonders.
Batch Cook Their Favourites
If you are new to the idea of batch cooking, don’t worry we know it can seem a bit daunting, but if you set a little time aside each week to prepare meals in advance, we promise you will reap the benefits of having nutritious meals ready prepared. This goes hand in hand with the above when offering choices to your toddlers if you know you have home cooked meals ready and waiting in the freezer.
Batch cooking also enables your child to get involved in the cooking process. While it's extremely tempting to banish your children from the kitchen when cooking, this can actually fuel their fussiness. Children love to feel involved, and this is no different when it comes to cooking. In fact, when children have been involved in the preparation, they are more likely to eat the meal as a result. Just give yourself plenty of time when cooking with toddlers, as it can often be a slower process with little hands involved.
Another tip for batch cooking is to use ice cube trays to freeze smaller portions. This is particularly handy for blended fruits and vegetables which could either be added to food as its prepared or given as part of the meal.
Make Mealtimes Fun
This may seem like an alien concept if you are struggling with a fussy eater but with a few simple changes we can put the fun back into mealtimes. At the moment the very thought of breakfast, lunch or dinner probably fills you with dread, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I know the main point of mealtimes is to eat, but if you were to shift the focus from the plate to conversation then it might just improve things. Ask your child questions they are likely to engage in conversation with rather than shrug off so for example, rather than saying “Have you had a good day?” which could be closed down with a simple yes, no or worse still completely ignored, you could ask something along the lines of “what was the favourite thing you did today?” or “Tell me something funny that happened today”. This creates a more relaxed atmosphere and goes back to feeling involved as opposed to feeling forced to eat as soon as they sit down.
Let them build their own meals
Another fun tip is to let them build their own meals, but of course under your control. This works especially well for lunch boxes or food on the go. The idea behind this being that if they have chosen what to eat they will eat it, therefore reducing waste.
As adults we understand the importance of a balanced diet by including protein, dairy, fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates into our daily diet, but when it comes to kids it can be tricky. We all know that kids eat with their eyes, meaning if they like the look of something they will it eat it, right? Right. So imagine their delight when they open the fridge or cupboards and find little containers where they can choose their own items from! You choose what goes in each container, they choose what to take out, simply choose one from each and away you go, everyone's a winner. See below for some ideas:
Protein Containers - Ham, Chicken, Salami, Sausage, Eggs
Dairy Containers - Milk drinks, Cheese Sticks or Cubes, Yoghurts
Fruit Containers (washed, chopped and divided into toddler sized portions) - Berries, Oranges, Apples, Mango, Pineapple
Vegetable Containers (prepared as above) - Tomatoes, Cucumber Sticks, Carrots Sticks
Carbohydrates Containers (complex carbohydrates) - Rice Cakes, Bread, Crackers
Treat Containers - Although we are keen to provide healthy meals, we also understand the joy a little treat can bring so you can fill this container with their favourite sweet or savoury snacks.
Tips To Help With Fussy Eaters
- Wherever possible try and eat together. Toddlers love to copy so if they see you eating well, they will soon follow suit.
- Don’t worry if your toddler isn’t eating 3 square meals a day. Some toddlers prefer to graze while others will have hungrier days than others. The key here is to monitor their intake over a week. As long as they are happy, active and growing, they will be just fine.
- Make or buy food that is convenient. Fun sizes snacks always go down well.
- Don’t force them to eat, however frustrating it may be simply take it away without making a scene. You could always try again an hour or so later.
- Ensure your toddler isn’t overly tired at meal times, as a cranky toddler is less likely to cooperate.
- Get creative. Make faces on a pizza base with ham, cheese and peppers. Transform a slice of toast with peanut butter and fresh fruit, or decorate a plate with crunchy veg to make their favourite animal. The options are endless when you put your mind to it.