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Food is the fuel we use to live, but it’s rarely as uncomplicated as ‘filling her up’. The relationship children have with food can be volatile and trying to manage this as a parent is a bit like a tightrope act.
Fussy eating is common in kids and can be very frustrating for parents. It can start as early as 1 year old and is often linked to an expression of control but could also be related to a feeling of fear or anxiety. For most children, this is just a phase and will pass.
Main types of fussy eating
Selective eating - choosing to eat a small variety of foods. Often disliking particular textures/tastes/smells. They could still be eating a suitable variety of foods to be healthy.
Food phobia - often occuring in school aged children and can be linked to anxiety. These fears can include: being sick, food being bad or harmful, not being able to swallow or danger of choking. These phobias may need more professional evaluation so need to be kept an eye on.
How to stay sane
Keep calm - as time goes on, food issues with kids can be really frustrating. It can be harder to remain patient and rational as the issues persist. Try to keep your cool and not get stressed as this will potentially escalate the problem and make things much worse!
Don’t give up - if at first you don’t succeed… if they are suspicious of new foods / block certain foods, don’t leave it at that. Keep offering it to them without any pressure. If they are reassured they can reject it, they’ll be more comfortable giving it a go.
Set an example - don’t make a song and dance of your sensible choices. Let them take it all in and be a subtle role model.
Sharing is caring - speak to other parents. If they’ve been through it, they might have some useful techniques you can use. Even if they don’t, you can share the pain!
Find the balance - if your child is struggling with a particular food texture/taste, start off adding it to something they do like so they won’t be overwhelmed by it. Who knows, once they’ve got used to it, it may become their favourite!
Pay no attention - seems impossible, but try to not put any focus on what they are/aren’t eating. Present them with the food and say nothing. Talk about something completely different like their day at school or what the plans for the weekend are.
Lead the way - show them that you’re willing to try new things too. We can’t all like everything but if they can see you going outside your comfort zone, they’ll be more confident to do the same too.
Don’t bargain - it can be an automatic reaction to bribe kids with treats to encourage them to eat the ‘good’ stuff. This has two negative side effects; 1) Plays into the power battle and shows your desperation and 2) Creates the message that savoury food is something to get through so you can enjoy the sweet reward.
Be flexible - allow them to change their minds on what they do and don’t like. Move away from statements like ‘but you like….’ or ‘I thought you didn’t like….’. This can put items firmly on the list of ‘foods I’ll never eat’ and will make introducing new foods much harder.
Don’t use the ‘f word’ - if you call them a ‘fussy eater’ they’ll associate with this and will behave accordingly.
There are some great resources out there from the NHS and some handy recipes for fussy eaters. The internet is your friend! Being a parent to fussy eaters can be tiring and stressful, but hold your nerve and you’ll get through it. If it persists, it might be worth seeking more advice from a registered dietitian. Good luck!