It’s always frustrating when your children eat a very limited range of food. Especially when you run a food business! As you might have seen before I have one that gives most food a go, and one that eats a very limited range. If he could live on cheese sandwiches, biscuits and those dried fruit ‘bear’ snacks (can’t remember the name, Arthur calls them ‘Bear & Mole’) he’d be quite happy. There’s only about 4 vegetables he will actually tolerate, and that’s when he’s in the mood. He won’t touch raw vegetables because they are ‘yucky’ and the only fruits he likes that aren’t dried are bananas and apples.
Then there’s the nightmares when one of the food they will eat, suddenly ends up on the ‘refuse and act like it’s poison’ list.
I have found this really hard, as I’m sure everyone does that has children that eat this way. I run a food business, my life is cooking! My life is trying new foods. My life is trying new cooking methods. But aside from this, I consider myself knowledgeable about what is healthy and what is not. And what I want my children to be eating and what I don’t. So there is a clash of wills when you are faced with a child that will only eat for breakfast toast and peanut butter. Everyday. Until suddenly it changes, and how dare you suggest he likes toast. And then he will only eat weetabix. With the milk in cup so he can pour it on himself. He went through a spell of wanting a boiled egg every morning. Yet last night when we suggested boiled eggs today, it was like we had torn his whole world apart.
So what do I do about it? Well the thing is you don’t know if you’re making the right decisions or tackling things the right way until they are grown up and you see the outcome of your efforts, and then it’s too late to go back! But this is what I believe will work. And that’s the best I can do really isn’t it?
So here’s the things I try and do:
1) Not force it.
It’s not a battle of wills anymore if you stop fighting. And by that I don’t mean give up the fight. I just mean that forcing and pressuring is going to make a strong willed child do the opposite. Don’t get me wrong I’ve done my share of begging/bargaining/laying the law down in the past. But it has never once succeeded. Not really. Yes he might have filled his ‘one bite of carrot’ requirement to buy himself a turn on sonic the hedgehog, but it’s not going to have made him like carrots. And it’s going to associate the eating carrots as something bad that I need a reward in order to do. So forcing it is out.
2) Give him control.
I’m pretty sure most of what is considered ‘naughty’ child behaviour is actually just a frustration when coming to understand the world. And his role in it. And the control or lack of it that he has. I’ve got on really well with Arthur in the past at giving him as many choices as possible, and in him making those choices, he’s not as bothered about the bigger battles. One example is he never used to want to get out of the bath. And he used to cry and I would get frustrated with him and it wasn’t pleasant. So I took the emphasis away from getting out of the bath and introduced some choices. First I’ll say ‘do you want to get out of the bath now, or in 1 more minute?’. He says ‘one more minute’. Then in a minute I say, ‘right the minute is up, it’s time to pull the plug…do you want to pull the plug or do you want mummy to pull the plug’. It’s always him who pulls the plug, but him being in control seems to work wonders. He gets out of the bath, no tantrums. So I’m starting to transfer my success with this over to food. ‘Do you want you tea with peas or with sweet corn?’ ‘If you don’t like your dinner you can choose a banana instead?’. Little things like that to hand the control over to him.
3) Make it familiar and accessible.
I will never give up dishing him up vegetables. Even if 100 times he refuses it. One time he will give it a try. The other day he discovered he liked a green bean that was on his plate. He was playing with his plate and picked up a bean and podded it open like a pea first to thoroughly investigate what he was committing too. But he ate it, and it was ok. He hadn’t eaten a green bean since he was about 10 months old. Now that’s real progress for us. I didn’t make a big deal of it, but was beaming inside. I also try to always get them involved in cooking and food prep whenever I can. The more familiar it is, the less big of a deal it will be to pluck up the courage to try it. And when that day comes that he’s ready to try new things, he will have the skills he needs to make them shine! I really believe that if I can, as a mum, pass one skill onto them, the ability to cook is the one I’d choose!
4) Lead by Example
And this is the big one isn’t it? Eat well yourself. Because when they hit that stage where they try more diverse foods, your footsteps are the only ones they will know how to walk in. This point has caused the most soul searching and the biggest change to our family life. We weren’t good examples when Arthur was little. And how could I expect him to eat grapes as a snack when I am eating biscuits? We have now completely transformed our attitude to food as a family. I know this will pay off! Because even if it doesn’t work at changing how the boys eat, it has given Ben and I much more enthusiasm for real healthy food, positive relationships with food and I’m sure a fitter, healthier and longer life!
5) Don’t Play Them Off
Well if point 4 caused the biggest change to our life, point 5 is the most challenging to implement. It is so tempting to say to Arthur ‘look at Leo, he’s eating his orange, isn’t he doing well?’ or ‘all your friends are eating strawberries, don’t you want one?’. But I’m trying hard not to do this, because he’s not a fussy eater. He’s a child. I don’t want to turn this into a ‘thing’ where he grows up with the self fulfilling prophecy that he has a negative relationship with food, and that’s somehow bad, or makes him bad. He’s a child that isn’t yet ready to try things. And if he does try them, a palette that isn’t mature enough to like them. Thinking back, all of my favourite foods currently I didn’t like as a child (most of them I would have never heard of back then, what the devil is hummus?!). So I’m determined to not make it an issue, he is only just 4. There’s loads of things he tried and even likes now that he didn’t touch 6 months ago. Which leads me onto 6…
6) Be patient, don’t worry
It’s not easy. But being more relaxed about what they eat makes meal times more relaxed. And more relaxed= more likely to try things. And if they don’t it’s ok, they will one day. And when that day arrives they will know how to cook. Maybe I can have a night off then?
If this sounds familiar to you, please get in touch to tell me what you did to help your children get into trying different foods. And please share to other parents. Because I have never observed ‘mum wars’ but I have often found solace in the ‘Mum Army’. Those band of heroes that are in your corner, who pick you up, give you advice, tell you it’s ok, and give you the strength and confidence to push on. Sometimes those words ‘yeah me too’ mean everything!