A few weeks ago I was texting a friend (my nutritionist friend) complaining that the kids were back to rarely eating their meals. It's known that parents with little kids often face the challenge of dealing with fussy eaters. It can be frustrating and concerning to see your child turning away nutritious foods. My friend re-assured, that it is very common, and usually a phase that many little kids go through.
We all know the story right? You cook a nutritious dinner for the kids. Something you think is pretty tasty. You’ve snuck in some veggies, it looks appealing. In your mind, you’ve done all the right things and this is going to be the night they eat it. You put it in front of the kids and hold your breath.
The other one won’t even try it.
It’s so painful, isn’t it?
I don’t have the magic cure but I can tell you 10 tips to get fussy eating kids to eat their meals/dinner at least most of the time. My friend reminded me of something I already know… keep it simple. That’s my number one tip for how to get kids to eat dinner – keep it simple (I’ll tell you how soon).
10 TOP TIPS FOR FUSSY EATERS TO EAT THEIR MEALS
1 Eat as a family or create an eating routine
Sometimes, due to different hours of work with parents, it's hard to find time to eat as a family. If you can, it helps to eat together when you can, or more importantly, establish a consistent mealtime routine. Having a regular meal schedule helps children anticipate when they'll eat, making them less likely to snack excessively or skip meals. When children know when to expect food, the consistency helps create a sense of routine and predictability around meals and they are less likely to become overly hungry or cranky, which can lead to picky or fussy eating.
2 Keeping food simple and portions small
It’s really like anything in life, the more we complicated it is, the less effective it is. It’s the same with meals and kids. Don’t try and make it harder than it has to be.
There is nothing wrong with good old meat and three veggie some nights. In fact, that’s exactly what we have usually at least 2 nights a week. Keeping it simple means it’s not too overwhelming for the kids, it’s easier for you to prepare and it makes great leftovers for lunches.
Serving small portions also helps with not overwhelming your child. They can always ask for more if they're still hungry. Encourage them to try just a bite or two of a new food, and praise their effort, even if they don't finish it, as it minimizes the pressure to finish everything on their plate.
3 Always offer one similar thing
Kids like consistency so offering one familiar, common thing at every meal makes them feel ‘safe.’ Also, it can take 10 tries of something for a child to actually decide the like it.
For us, it’s nearly always some carrots. Every night, I cook some carrot sticks, coat them in butter and put them in a little bowl on the table. It has taken a while but now, every night, they eat a couple.
My little one even proclaimed the other night that he loves broccoli (which again, I just kept offering until he tried it).
4 Offer a Variety of Foods
Experiment with various types of fruits, vegetables, and proteins. A variety of flavors and textures will keep things interesting for your child and increase the likelihood of them finding foods they enjoy. Include colorful foods on their plate to make mealtime visually appealing. If they are extremely fussy in seeing vegetables or trying new things, you can try supplementing with Mavella Superfood - so they can get the nutrition they need – you can check out the Crispy homemade Popcorn Chicken Recipe with an added veggie boost.
5 Get them involved in the meal preparation
Let the kids choose their favourite meal/dinner about once a week. Letting them feel in control of what they eat makes them much more likely to eat it.
Again, getting the kids involved and giving them some responsibility makes them feel like they have some control over meal/dinner time. Engage your little kid in age-appropriate meal preparation tasks and under your supervision.
What can they do to help you prepare the dinner in the kitchen? Can they peel the string off the beans, husk the corn, peel the carrots, even just popping things into the slow cooker… kids love feeling like they’re helping. When children feel like they're part of the process, they tend to be more enthusiastic about the meal and it piques their interest in trying new foods, and more open to tasting the final product.
It’s also an opportunity to talk about what’s so good about each food. Talk about how the carrots will help them see in the dark like a rabbit, the broccoli will help them get big strong muscles. Nothing made me more proud than when my son told me the other night he didn’t need his nightlight because he’d been eating his carrots and could see in the dark!
6 Avoid Sugary and Processed Foods
Although not always possible to avoid, by limiting access to sugary snacks and processed foods, or offering as a treat after they finish their proper meals helps kids to to eat healthier. Sugary snacks and processed foods can spoil their appetite and make them crave unhealthy options. Instead, offer healthier snacks like fruit, yogurt, or nuts.
7 Make Foods Fun
Get creative with your presentation as a little creativity can make a big difference. You can arrange fruits and vegetables and transform them into fun and colourful shapes, creating food art in appealing patterns, and use colorful dishes to make meals more enjoyable. Encourage your child to play with their food within reason. difference.
8 Let them ‘steal’ from your plate
I’m not sure if this is an actual trick but I will always serve myself a little of everything and make a bit of a big deal about how delicious each thing is. ‘Oh my goodness, these carrots are so sweet’ … I’m sure you can picture it. More often than not it leads to at least one child ‘stealing’ something off my plate to try.
9 Serve it family-style
Again this comes down to kids feeling responsible and in control of a situation. I serve the food in the middle and let the kids serve themselves (with a little help).
10 Keep Calm and don't give up
Remember that it's normal for children to be fussy eaters at times. Meal times can be super stressful but keeping your calm is so important. We want kids to relate food to good times, not to times of stress. Play some relaxing music, ask them about the best thing that happened to them that day – it doesn’t matter what it is, just keep it calm and happy.
Be persistent, and don't give up on introducing new foods. It might take multiple attempts for your child to accept a particular food, so keep trying, and stay positive.
So there you have it – 10 tips to get kids to eat meals/dinner. You most definitely don’t have to try everything but give one or two ago and see what a difference it makes.
Check out Little Kids' Business feeding and health range as keeping kids healthy boosts their self-esteem and confidence, contributing to their growth and development. If you know other parents that are going through this and have fussy eaters in their family, consider giving them this giftbox to help: Mavella Superfood Ultimate Fussy Eater Superfood Kit.