If you have found this blogpost in despair, firstly remember that you are not alone! Most families have a fussy eater… your child’s poor eating is not a reflection of you, or your child so cut yourself some slack. If friends or relatives are thoughtless enough to pass comment; do your best to let it go. I know that is easier said than done when you feel like your parenting skills are being judged, but please do try!
About My Fussy Eater
I’m not a professional on fussy eaters, but I do have experience of raising 3 boys, one of them being a nightmare with his food so I hope I am qualified to comment!
My fussy eater was my stepson Oliver. I started dating his Dad (now my husband) when he was just over 3 years old. His diet was already a nightmare – consisting of tinned spaghetti, cheesy beans, margarita pizza, chicken nuggets and the only two nutritious meals in his repertoire – spaghetti bolognese and cottage pie (as long as he couldn’t see any visible vegetables in it)!
I tried introducing new foods and I made meals look ‘fun’. I hid vegetables in pasta sauces but nothing seemed to work. It was as if he had x-ray vision for spotting vegetables! The problem was that the more he dug his heels in the harder I dug in mine – I refused to give up – sadly making it a competition (in which I was losing spectacularly!)
I was beyond frustrated. I couldn’t understand why everyone else seemed happy just to give in, feed him what he wanted and label him as fussy eater – almost as if that made it ok. In my family, the food prepared for you was a way of showing love, and every loving meal I made was left completely untouched. I was devastated.
The fussy eater will always win – you can’t force feed a child so offer the food, and if they refuse it – calmly take it away. Here’s the hard bit… under no circumstances do you let them see your frustration.
I spent a couple of years having my own tantrums about what Oliver wouldn’t eat. On many occasions I had to go to the bathroom to take a few deep breaths and regain my composure. Avoiding showing negative emotion was definitely the key to not making mealtimes anxious for both of us.
Accept that the situation will not change overnight. Praise small wins. If Oliver tasted just a teaspoon of something new, we’d say “well done for trying it” and casually move on without too much fuss.
Dessert Or Not?
Controversial – I know. It went against everything I had learned from my own parents (we were a finish your plate or no dessert household). I figured if I offered a healthy dessert at least Oliver ate something nutritious at mealtimes. A platter of different fruits that I placed in the centre of the table always worked as he’d usually wolf down banana and strawberries – so at least I could relax knowing he had eaten something nutritious.
I wont pretend I didn’t get negative comments from older relatives who ‘did it differently in their day’; however a polite but confident “it’s been difficult to know what’s best, so we are doing what works for us” usually marks the end of the conversation without anyone getting offended or upset.
Oliver seemed to like having an empty plate in front of him so he could control what he chose to go on it. Perhaps it was less of a mountain to climb for him to have a couple of mouthfuls of food on his plate at a time rather than a full meal – but sharing platters were our mealtime saviour.
Oliver may not have eaten much variety (sometimes I think he just ate the bread!), but at least he ate something, and finally started to enjoy sitting around the table and being involved in the ‘occasion’ of family meals. It also meant his younger brothers didn’t notice what he did or didn’t help himself to, so we avoided them copying Oliver’s habits.
I’ve seen children who are fussy about having different foods touching on the plate. Gravy or sauce over a meal was also a no-no for Oliver. Roll with it and serve dinner in ramekins dishes (I used to use an Indian Thalia plate). At the end of the day, if they eat the food albeit in a slightly unconventional way who cares… see it as a win for you.
On a camping holiday my Mum successfully bribed Oliver £1 to try a red kidney bean calling it a ‘camping bean’ which had been added to a bolognese base in an attempt to progress onto ‘chilli’. On this occasion it worked, and over a decade on, kidney beans are still fondly known as ‘camping beans’ in my household! Be warned though, this was an isolated success, and given children need to try something an average of 8 times before they like it, you may need deep pockets if you take the bribery route!
Did My Techniques Work?
Small wins were the key to success but overall yes. Gradually Oliver became open to trying a tiny taste (he almost always disliked it), but then he hit his mid-teens and started trying things successfully. He is now 19 and eats virtually everything I put in front of him with the very odd exception.
Who knew – kids really can grow out of it. Phew!