One thing I try to do ever so often is teach a cooking class at my daughters school. I really enjoy these somewhat haphazard cooking experiences, and hopefully the kids do too! I am a big believer that getting kids into the kitchen from an early age helps them with making good food choices, to try new foods, and makes them excited about preparing their own food, which are all positive things.
These skills from my limited experience seem to be especially important for this young 3-5 years age group. Any one who has a toddler or pre schooler may have experienced the joys of a fussy eater, I know I have.
When my daughter was just one, I thought I had it all set, and was smug in her apparent culinary prowess. You name it, she ate it. I have memories of taking her to yum cha and her devouring scallops with ginger and shallots, or happily munching on a bowl of crispy fried pigs ears demanding more. Then one grey overcast day it stopped. Just like that, stopped. Her petite gourmet little mouth closed shut, with the only words to escape being…. “I don’t like it mummy”.
Where did I fail, how could I fail, how could this be happening. I work with food, my child must love food too, but apparently not. In her defense, she was taken off and then back on several foods through elimination diets, in attempt to get to the bottom of her tummy issues, and I definitely think this was a contributing factor. It seems that young kids have a ‘window’, and once that window shuts, it’s very hard to open it again.
This is one of the reasons that I really encourage parents to not eliminate foods/ food groups from their child’s diet unless there is a really valid medical reason to do so. In our case we had to, but it had consequences.
So how do you deal with a fussy eater, it is challenging! It wears you down, you get frustrated, you get cranky, and you can give up hope. That is the really hard bit, you cannot completely give up hope. Giving up means accepting that dinner is a plate of plain pasta with grated cheese which I am not willing to do, so you have to keep fighting.
I will be honest, I have moments where I find myself serving ‘easy’, ‘safe’ dinners that I know won’t result in an argument, because I am too tired to deal with it. And that is ok, we would not be human if we didn’t. Where I have to catch myself is that this does not become every night.
So what do you do? Obviously each child is unique, and each family has its own limitations, but some meal time guidelines I find really help are…
- make sure there is one thing on the plate they do like (this may be pasta, brown rice etc)
- then make sure there are at least 3 different veg on the plate
- also make sure there is some sort of protein (this could be an egg, some fish, chicken, nuts etc) as well
- I do NOT believe in you must eat everything on your plate, but I DO believe in you must have a little of everything on your plate.
- only introduce one new food at a time. If you present a dinner that is all new foods, things can get ugly.
- you need to make the experience ‘safe’…. with just a little ‘challenge’.
- dinner is dinner. Do not cook something else if they don’t eat it, and do not let them snack after dinner if they don’t eat it.
Back to the cooking class. Involving kids in the kitchen is another really valuable way to get them to try new things. Even better, getting them to try new things with friends (such as at kindy) also seems to be more effective. Do not under estimate the benefits of positive peer pressure!
Eating with them at meal times (when ever possible) is also critical. They learn by example, how can we expect them to eat foods that we are not eating too.