Tips for Supporting Fussy Eaters
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We like to think of our Centres as an extension of our families’ homes, and we are committed to supporting families both in and outside of their Centre.
One of the most common conversations between our Educators and families is how to best support children who are fussy eaters! Our team members work with families to communicate any new food their child has been willing to try, and any that they particularly enjoy. By collaborating, we are able to extend learning opportunities with experiences that relate back to their home environments, and share information that can be used to support children at home.
Here we share some information and tested tips for supporting, educating and encouraging fussy eaters. Don’t be discouraged, it’s a work in progress – celebrate small milestones!
Our Top Tips for Educating and Supporting Fussy Eaters
1. Establish a starting point
Many children are fussy eaters and only eat a very narrow range of food. One child may drink milk throughout the day but not eat any food; another may only eat white bread and pasta grains. We can start off really small by introducing different foods to the children by holding it in their hands. The children can be invited to touch and hold the food themselves when they are ready.
Educators can orchestrate intentional learning experiences to explore smell, taste and touch, and ask the children what it might feel like in their mouths or in their hands. Over the course of many meal times, we work to build up their confidence to bring food to their lips to taste, and eventually eat.
2. Allow children to exercise autonomy
We believe that children deserve to have autonomy in what they do and don’t want to eat. Autonomy comes when a child can make a mature decision in relation to healthy eating and what they choose to put in their body. If a child hasn’t developed that maturity yet, we as adults need to put ourselves in charge and ensure they’re consuming a healthy diet.
When giving your child autonomy over their food, you can be smart about it! For example, if you know that your child eats pasta, and they could probably eat carrot and broccoli, put all three in a bowl and let them choose one thing they don’t want to eat. Over time, build up the variety of food items in their bowl and limit their options of what they don’t have to eat.
3. Pick your battles
No one has the time or energy to fight their child at every meal time and force them to eat. At Guardian, we share the success of a child’s eating with their family. If they’ve eaten a really good meal for lunch, we encourage their families to just enjoy dinner at home.
We recommend picking one meal a day where you have time to sit with your child and talk them through the meal. This may mean breakfast, morning tea or lunch, as opposed to dinner when you have limited time.
4. Open up the conversation around food
For our Preschool / Kindergarten children, we use strong language when it comes to communicating around mealtimes. We encourage the children to vocalise their feelings but also to try new things, as even our best eaters can sometimes be hesitant.
We often find children don’t want to eat something if it’s not their ‘favourite’. Educators talk about the importance of still eating something even if it’s not a child’s favourite food:
“It may not be your favourite food but you need to try all of the food on your plate.”
“It might not be your favourite but it helps your body grow and it’s good for you.”
“The more you eat something the more likely you are to like it, as our taste buds always change.”
5. Sync meals up with your child’s Centre
At Guardian, our Centres offer seasonal, rotating menus, which has been integral when building the children’s relationship with food. As each menu runs for four to six weeks, with each dish being served several times in the rotation, it helps the children build familiarity with a meal and know what to expect.
Serving a familiar meal also offers the opportunity to add new elements for children to explore. It’s less intimidating if there’s one new component of a dish, rather than an entirely new meal to try. If you haven’t already, request a copy of your Centre’s menu and prepare at home the dishes your child eats and enjoys at the Centre!
6. Promote the joy of food
At every meal, we are mindful to promote the joy of food and encourage conversations around the table while we’re eating. Having light and fun discussions, such as sharing our favourite part of the morning, or what we’re going to do after the meal, helps take the pressure off actually eating.
We try to avoid singling out a child who isn’t eating with their peers. Instead, our team focuses on individual intentional teaching time with that child at a separate time, or away from the group, so that they don’t connect meal times to being stressed.
To further explore food, we often organise self-led experimental cooking experiences, where the children can be inventive and cook what they like. No recipes required – just some ingredients, a bowl and utensils.
Eating delicious food with friends and family should be an enjoyable experience, and over time will become so by practicing these tips!
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