As caring and nurturing mums and dads, we all want our children to be brought up eating healthily, sleeping well and generally being in good health – don’t we? But, how do we do that when the child refuses point blank to eat any fruit and vegetables?
Children who are fussy eaters have a food regime which is limited to a fairly small range of foods, most of them being white and beige foods like bread, chips, pasta, biscuits, crackers etc, some children prefer crunchy foods like the crackers, crisps, chicken nuggets, whilst others will be happy with soft pasta, (no sauce of course!), mashed potato, yogurts and ice cream. Fussy eaters also like their foods to always look the same- for example; crackers, crisps and chicken nuggets are all manufactured in a similar way, nearly always the same size, colour and texture. Just like pasta, yogurt, ice cream. However, when it comes to vegetables and fruit – the variables are tremendous – no two carrots really look alike, even when cut up they can be different shapes and sizes, neither do they taste the same when cooked because cooking times always vary! So, we have now got foods that can be different every single time the child goes to eat it! That is one big NO-NO for fussy eaters! We know that children, in general, don’t like change anyway, so now we are asking them to face change with food every mealtime – no wonder they become scared of trying new things. So, WHAT IS the answer?
I believe we need to expand on the foods they are already eating – like crackers for example – get little Johnny who only eats the square crackers to start eating the round ones, or, Jemma to eat some different shapes of pasta! By doing this you are showing the child that even though something doesn’t look exactly the same, it can still taste nice.
Then, when they are comfortable eating their “safe foods” with added items around those, start to allow the child to be exposed to more fruit and veg. Always have a bowl of fruit on the table – in view! Even a bowl of some lovely colourful veggies. Exposure to these foods when children are very young is so important.
Also, the way we talk about food in front of our kids is of paramount importance. In my clinic I hear mums and dads say: “Well, I never used to eat veg when I was young, so I suppose I can’t expect him to!”
This is like giving him PERMISSION to refuse veggies! The child is thinking “Well if my dad didn’t like them, then I won’t!”
Playing with food is also important. Let the child hold a cauliflower. Feel it, smell it, even bite into it if she wants to! The more exposure a child has to fruit and veg when they are really young, the more chance you have of them actually eating it as they get older.
Anxiety, both your OWN anxiety and the child’s, plays a big part at meal times. If you are anxious, the child will feel it and he will become anxious too.
But, what if my child has a real eating disorder?
Mums often ask me how they will be able to tell if their child is just simply a bit fussy at meal times or whether he/she has something wrong which is affecting their ability to eat. With something like Selective Eating Disorder (SED) or ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intolerant Disorder) You will find that your child has a real FEAR of any other foods than his own “safe” foods. With a child who is just a bit fussy you will be able to “bribe” them with a new lego – set or a new doll. However, with a child who has a fear or phobia, as in SED/ARFID you could offer them a six- week holiday in Disneyland and they still wouldn’t be able to eat! THAT’S the difference!
What other things may cause my child to be fussy?
The main things that we find in children who are really fussy eaters, are symptoms like sensory problems, whereby the child has such a sensitive mouth and tongue that everything he eats feels a thousand times “crunchier, wetter, dryer, gooier, than it should do. It could also taste a lot stronger, or, a lot blander. Sensory processing disorder is very common amongst children and not only affects their eating but other things like their sensitivity to noise, clothes and materials, their vision (too bright for example) so be aware that if you have noticed they are sensitive in one area, there is a possibility they may have sensory issues with food as well.
So, how do I get my child to eat fruit and veg?
The answer is, that after you have got him or her more interested in various types of other foods and he is comfortable with different shapes, sizes, etc of foods, you move on to the more popular types of fruit and veg that most children will eat, for example; peas, sweetcorn, bananas, apples and grapes. You can also create funny little shapes with lots of different fruit and veg – for example: a hedgehog mango, or a banana snowman! Be creative with your child, let them help with the preparation of food, let them come shopping with you and choose what they would like to try. However, don’t set the goals too high. If a child runs out of the room when you put a carrot on his plate, start by getting him to at least be IN the room with the carrot on a plate nearby! Get your child to smell the food, lick the food, before it even goes into their mouth. Each of these little steps is actually HUGE progress for most fussy eaters – so don’t rush them!
If you are worried about your child’s eating or would like any further help or advice, do contact me at www.focus-hypnotherapy.co.uk
Thanks to Daniel Vincek on Envato for the image this week!