If you’ve got a kid like mine who is more than just fussy about what they eat then you’ll have already tried the usual recommended ways to get them to eat better. I expect you’ve tried growing vegetables in the backyard, taking them grocery shopping and letting them help choose what you buy, and getting them involved in the cooking. Add food allergies to this and food just gets a whole lot harder!
We tried a lot of different ideas in our house to try and beat my son’s food phobia. Today I’d like to share what has worked for us:
1. Keep mealtime as stress free as possible. For my family that involved making slightly different variations of the same meal to keep the peace. We do this less and less with time. I always keep this pretty simple but I might keep a piece of chicken aside for him and quickly grill it and we’ll have a casserole. Then I cook the same vegetables for everyone.
2. It’s important to make sure that every mouthful counts. Try to resist letting your kids fill up on rubbish just to make life easy. Ensure everything they eat is packed full of nutrients and think about the ingredients in every dish or food you make. Tweak the ingredients just a little to make them more nutritious if possible.
3. Use distraction at mealtimes – this really works and it’s my best tip!! We played board games at the dinner table. One mouthful was equal to one turn of the game and we went around the table. If someone refused to eat they skipped their turn. Eating outside if you don’t normally or going for a picnic can work too. For younger children you can also read a book at the table and turn the page each time they take a mouthful.
4. Ensure you have plenty of nutritious snacks ready to go. I use a container in the bottom of the fridge for my kids so they can easily find a snack. I pack it full of foods I’m happy for them to eat between meals like fruit, yoghurt, homemade custard and bliss balls. You could do the same in the pantry and make it easy for the kids to find snacks like bananas, small portions of organic dried fruit and healthy homemade snacks like biscuits or slices. This makes in between meals easier because you don’t have to think about what to offer when they say they’re hungry. Note: I do need to keep an eye on my daughter when dinner is close though to make sure she doesn’t fill up on snacks!
5. Bribery. Yep. I did it and sometimes it works. Let’s face it, board games plus dinner, plus a fussy kid at the end of the day is pain so we sometimes just used bribery! For this to work you will need to find your child’s currency – what will drive them to eat! I did a star chart and once it got the required number of stars we would go for a trip to the toy shop. Sometimes we even did the toy shop before we started the star chart and sat the toy on the bench so he had a big incentive to eat every night (unfortunately we had to do this for his little sister too and it got a bit expensive!). We let him look at the toy as much as he liked but he couldn’t touch it until it was his. We varied the number of stars required to suit the value of the toy but never more than 10 stars or it took too long.
6. Food Chaining is an awesome concept I read about in a book. This involves taking a food and then changing it slightly so you just stretch the child slowly to expand what they’ll eat. One food our OT suggested we work on our son to eat was a quality tomato sauce. We were then able to use this to put on new foods and it helped them feel familiar and safe.
7. Smuggle fruit and vegetables into everything you prepare. It’s essential you still present them with fruit and vegetables so they understand that they need to be eaten as well and have the opportunity to practice.
8. Remember that it can take a number of tries before they accept a food. I think it’s okay to put a bit of pressure on them to try a new food but I don’t think it’s worth upsetting them (or you!). Even just a tiny taste is enough, next time they may have more.
9. If it’s really bad find an Occupational Therapist (OT) that works with kids who have feeding difficulties. We found great OT who runs small groups for children with feeding issues however my son was so bad to start with that we needed private sessions. We moved onto small group sessions as he improved. The sessions were hard at first but it really worked and while he was there he tried everything she told him to. I just took along the food the OT required each week and my son had to eat it. The OT had an amazing gym and he got to ride the flying fox and play all of the cool activities as a reward for trying new foods and he really enjoyed going. The OT let him spit food out if he really hated it and that reduced his anxiety a lot. She also had this saying we still use in our house “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it”.
10. Don’t be afraid to seek alternative treatments. We’ve tried heaps of things we were so desperate. We’ve had some relief using a psychologist who did hypnosis with our son. Talking to the psychologist before his sessions really helped me understand what was going on in his little mind too. We’ve also more recently had great improvement using homeopathic remedies tailored to his unique situation.
At the end of the day just remember, it’s your job to provide the food and it’s their job to eat it. I’d love to hear what’s worked for you. Let me know in the comments below!