We all have foods that we aren’t that fond of, whether that is Brussells sprouts, broccoli, mushrooms, or coriander.
But for parents of fussy eaters, getting your children to eat anything healthy, let alone a green vegetable, can be an ongoing battle.
Relate family counsellor, Christine Northam told The Huffington Post UK: “Food is linked very strongly to the way we feel, which means it can end up becoming an emotional battle ground.”
So we asked Northam and Amanda Gummer, psychologist at Fundamentally Children, for advice on how to tackle those dinner time arguments, before they get out of control:
1. Eat as a family.
It isn’t always easy to get all members of the family around the table at the same time, but this simple act can have a huge impact on the ability to control arguments before they reach fever-point.
“The more often a family eats together, the easier mealtimes will be – (as long a you are consistent),” Gummer assured.
2. Try to understand the source of the problem.
Northam explained fussy eating often isn’t about the food on your child’s plate.
“It is nearly always about other issues being acted out over food,” she said.
“Often it’s about the parents being too controlling generally – the only way the child can express their resentment is to refuse food, play with it or hide it.”
3. Pick your battles.
If you are trying to address fussy eating, table manners and sitting still, all in one go, it can be overwhelming. So just focus on one.
“Pick your battles and do not try and fix everything all at once,” advised Gummer.
4. Lead by example.
“Act the way you want your children to act, so that they can copy,” said Gummer.
“Set clear and enforceable boundaries. For example, no sweets before a meal and if you don’t eat all your dinner then you don’t get pudding.”
5. Avoid shouting.
It can be so tempting to just get angry, especially after a long day, but Northam said it’s important parents don’t develop a short fuse at the dinner table.
“Avoid shouting at your child or being too forceful if they are refusing to eat,” she said. “The general consensus on parenting now, is that it’s best to be sensitive to the child and not impose the parental will too heavily.”
6. Practise your negotiation skills.
Although it might feel like you are giving into your child’s demands, being forceful will only end in tears.
“Be assertive whilst remaining calm and sensitive,” advised Northam.
“For example: ‘If you want to eat spaghetti hoops, would you mind also having some chopped up apples?’ But do be careful not to negotiate too much, otherwise the child may think they can cause a distraction every time.”
7. Don’t be afraid to get support.
Northam warns parents that if fussy eating becomes more than a passing phase, this can have implications in later life.
“If food becomes a preoccupation in childhood it might lead to problems later on such as anorexia or obesity,” she said.
So it is important to seek help if you think that is the case.
“This can include talking to a GP, a nutritionist or a family counsellor,” explained Northam. “It may be that seeing a nutritionist is just about getting the reassurance as a mother that your child is still eating enough.”