Raising happy eaters: The do’s the don’ts and the best ways to tackle it

With small children, most normal daily interactions and experiences can be a battle. Doing a shopping with them in tow becomes an ordeal, a quick errand run that would have taken a mere half hour before takes forever. We love all the little adventures that come along with kids too, but the everyday trials can sometimes be taxing – especially around mealtimes.

We don’t expect our children to eat and love every food under the sun – we don’t even do that. But we can’t let their diet become limited and lacking in nutrition. Raising happy eaters who are at least willing to try new food is a major parenting goal for all mums and dads out there, to help them get all the vital nutrients they need to thrive.

So we’re here to help, with a few quick and easy tips to incorporate into your daily routine that can make all the difference when raising happy eaters!

Don’t overthink it

It can be easy to get in our heads about our child’s eating habits and to worry constantly about their diets. But as long as they’re a) active b) gaining a normal and healthy amount of weight and c) seem well, then they're probably getting enough to eat. Everyone’s appetite varies, including children, so of they’re telling you they’re getting enough to eat, they probably are. Be patient with this process – they’re not going to suddenly turn around one day and decide to actually try the salad. Expanding a palette is a life-long journey, and it’s all about helping them to get there by themselves. Finding confidence in trying food is done through experience and time – so give them and yourself a little time!

Try not to force it

The whole ‘You’re not leaving the table until your plate is clean’ concept of our youths is not the best way to go about raising happy eaters. It can cause your child to resent both the food and you, meaning they’re even less willing to try it or something new next time. It also teaches them not to listen to their appetite, meaning they may over or undereat in the future. Putting massive pressure and focus on mealtimes can make them a daily ordeal for both of you, so try to stay calm and not interact with rejection or pushback, as hard as it may be at times. Forcing it just validates their complaints.

Don’t make exceptions

While you shouldn’t force them to eat food they genuinely dislike, it’s also important not to call attention to it. Leaving mushrooms or broccoli or whatever rejected food off their plate while it’s on everyone else’s plate will give them a special dispensation not to try it. They don’t have to eat it, but it’s there if they feeling like trying it out. Giving them the option without forcing it on them is a good happy medium.

Make family meals a social event

A set family mealtime should be a non-negotiable part of family life. It’s a chance to meet, catch up and also regulate children’s diets as having food at roughly the same time every day means they’re not too tired or hungry. If family and conversation is the focus of the meal, these interactions become more enjoyable than stressful.

Be careful with snacks

When you find a food your fussy eater likes, it’s  easy to get excited and want to feed them up. But more than 2 small snacks a day can ruin an appetite and its regulation. Mealtimes will only get harder and their appetite control may be effected. Similarly, it’s important not to use snacks as rewards – the association can lead to an unstable relationship with food later on, something that’s particularly important to avoid with children having trouble with food.

Set a good example

This is one of our favourite tips. If your child has a friend or adult they admire that is willing to try lots of new things, try inviting them over for dinner and having a few new foods. Your child may copy their example or even just act up less around food in front of them. Be sure not to call attention to the other person’s eating habits in comparison to your child’s – that could make them defensive and on guard. Instead, focus on how well the other person eats and maybe praise their eating habits.

Perseverance and consistency are key in your child’s eating journey and with time and patience, you’ll have a whole troupe of happy eaters, ready to try most anything you put in front of them! So be strong and keep trying, even when it feels frustrating – it will pay off in the end.

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