Raising a Good Eater – 10 Tips
Developing positive food associations right from the very first spoonful is one of the most important gifts you can give your child. After gathering up all the hints, tips and ideas from many mums, and using a pinch of my own experience this list has been developed so you can (hopefully) bypass the seriously frustrating fussy eating phase. We believe all children have it in them to be good eaters, and there are tactics you can use right from the very first mouthful.
In my years as a Nanny, I came across a range of different families and was exposed to their eating habits. I watched very closely to see the differences between those who ate well and those who caused mealtime anxiety. I took my learnings and have used them to help others, tried them out on Harry and am now sharing with you.
If you have any tricks, tips or experiences you would like to share please feel free to comment.
1. Phases will come and go
- Every child goes through phases of eating less or refusing food. Often this is because they are concentrating on growing, or mastering a new skill, or perhaps their teeth are pushing through making the chewing of food undesirable. Try and pick up on these cues, listen to your child, and work through the phase together.
- Remember to see fussy times as a phase and go about things in a relaxed and normal way. See our post on how fussy eating starts for more information.
- If you’re having trouble with one food or food group specifically, have a read of our 10 tips to help food refusal.
- If you are concerned about your child’s diet and/or nutrition intake it is always best to see a healthcare professional for more advice.
2. You control your destiny
- The key to not creating a fussy eater is to simply not have ‘bad’ foods in the house as an option. All the best eaters I have come across are not exposed to food their parents don’t want them to have. It really is as simple as that. Have an adult cupboard under lock and key, but you cant expect to eat tempting foods in front of your children and then not expect them to want it too.
- At the start of each week spend 45 minutes baking a batch of something healthy and delicious like some banana muffins, or oat bars. There’s no need to deny older children something sweet every now and then. It is always better if you have made it yourself, so you know exactly what is in it.
- Spoon-feed for as long as you need to. Many will try and tell you that your child should be feeding themselves by [insert random age here], but I believe your child will self feed when they are ready (unless baby led weaning and this wont apply). Many self feeding toddlers will get bored or tired before they are full. I found spoon-feeding a nice healthy meal first, followed by The Tasting Plate of finger foods was the most effective way.
3. Variety is key
- Introduce a variety of foods from an early age. You child won’t like everything on offer, and that is completely normal, but keep trying.
- Never give in, because this can lead to food jags – or giving up on a whole range of foods. Be persistent and offer foods a variety of different ways and eventually your child’s diet will expand to include most foods.
- It can be beneficial for breastfeeding mothers to eat a variety of healthy foods. The flavour of the breastmilk changes according to what is eaten, and therefore exposes the baby to different flavours from an early age, often helping with the acceptance of solid foods.
4. Make the time to eat
- We all lead very busy lives, and more often than not children aren’t given the opportunity to sit down at a table to eat. This eating-on-the-go can lead to a diet high on ease and taste and low on nutrition and variety.
- Where possible, try and make time for a proper breakfast, get home for a quiet lunch, and take five minutes to relax everyone before dinner. Where children eat and the atmosphere at the table can affect the quality of the eating and in turn, behaviour and sleeping patterns. Family mealtimes matter.
5. Schedule mealtimes and snacks
- It’s a really good idea to schedule your baby’s mealtimes and snacks as soon as you see a pattern forming. This is one of the most important things you can do to promote a well balanced diet as your child grows.
- Avoid the selective eating patterns caused by the dreaded snacking. Instead, set strict meal and snack times depending on your baby’s preference, and feed nutritious foods at these times.
6. Food should be fun
- Be creative and keep mealtimes surprising, interactive and fun.
- Mess is important and OK
- Take afternoon tea outside every Friday and have a picnic.
- Make a fruit and smoothie bar and whip up their favourite flavours.
- Have “girl chat” on Tuesday mornings where you have morning tea with your daughter and talk about girl things.
- Avoid offering broccoli night after night after night. Mix it up. Try not to let your children get bored with the same old.
- Most of all keep things fun and different. Your children want to be with you and praised by you most of all, so the more you interact with them at meal times the more positive the associations will become.
7. Control “Special Occasions” aka Grandma
- Try not to elevate sweet foods to a treat or special status. By offering a sweet treat or dessert after a meal you are telling your child that what they are eating is inferior, and that the good stuff is yet to come.
- Avoid using food as a bribe as this will only lead to you offering more and more unhealthy foods and children associating food with comfort (which continues into adult hood).
- Never use food as a punishment. Mealtimes and eating should always be a positive experience.
- As your child grows up there will be many occasions where unhealthy food is offered. I find it is better to allow sweets and snacks on special occasions (like at Grandmas and Party’s) rather than deny them altogether. Many children who are denied sweet foods but see others eating them will find a way to rebel, usually in the form of stealing.
8. Play with your food
- Children have limited fine motor skills and will often make a huge mess. Be open to this, buy some preen and a splash mat, and let them experience food in a natural way.
- Involve your baby or toddler with raw foods. Plant some vegetables and watch them grow. Taste how sweet and juicy a fresh tomato is, peel the banana in front of your child, let them mush a whole peach in between their fingers. Playing with fruits and vegetables and ignoring the mess is the beginning of a good relationship with food.
- Use The Tasting Plate from an early age to develop positive food associations. Eventually, your child will move on from spoon-feeding, and The Tasting Plate will transition to be their dinner plate with no fuss.
- A mothers fear of choking can sometimes delay the progression of lumpy and finger foods. Speak to your health care professional, and do a first-aid course so you are more comfortable and can enjoy this new phase.
9. Create an experience
- Make meal times a relaxing and enjoyable experience. Create a “Mealtime Ritual”, this will be quite basic when first starting solids – more of a simple routine so your baby know’s what’s coming next.
- Turn off the TV, turn on some classical music, sit and face your children and eat together. Even if you can’t spend every meal time together as a family, simply giving them a moment of peace and your undivided attention will help them focus, digest and form positive associations with meal times.
10. Be a good role model
- You are so important in modeling the way you expect your children to behave. This is apparent in all areas of development, and very much a part of forming positive food associations.
- Don’t talk down to the vegetables. If you turn your nose up at all things green then this behavior will translate.
- Children see, children do. Right from the start make fruits and vegetables just as enjoyable as all other foods, don’t focus on them, don’t assume they wont like them, simply take the time to make them taste nice. Cook them, bake them, grill them, fry them, bring out their natural flavor.
- Enjoy eating a variety of different and healthy foods yourself, and show enjoyment when eating in front of the children.
- Talk about topics other than food at mealtimes. Talk about your day, their day, what you are doing tomorrow, anything that brings the focus away from the plate. If eating is seen as a relaxed everyday part of life children are less likely to choose this area to fuss.
We believe all children have it in them to be good eaters and to associate foods with positive experiences. Want more? What to do when you have tried everything.
(Please remember to read our site disclaimer as the general information we provide does not constitute medical advice and is not intended to replace the personalised care and advice given to you by your health professional team.)Join us on Facebook for other foodie bits and pieces.