Yesterday I posted in response to a Woman’s Hour phone in on fussy eating questioning why we seem to get so little help with something which seems to be such a big problem for so many.
Today I thought it might be useful to summarise what the two experts on the show – Lucy Cooke and Bea Wilson – had to say to the mothers phoning in asking for help with their kids.
There were a few general points to their advice – one of which rung very true for us as it’s our mantra – eating together. The more that you are able to eat with your children and actively demonstrate to them a relaxed and healthy mealtime the more likely they are to adopt your good habits (assuming of course that your habits are good).
Another made me grimace slightly although I know it’s equally useful – getting them involved in the cooking process to get them used to the look and feel and even taste of the food during the prep stage which gets them feeling more in control and comfortable with the whole thing. I grimace because whilst this is a beautiful and wholesome idea the reality, with a four and two year old in my case, is more of a screeching carnage. But you know, suck it up.
The advice for those really struggling with their kids actually took this a step further – one mother had had some success in taking her fussy eater to the supermarket, allowing him to choose any 3 things (sweets and chocolate aisle excluded naturally) with the proviso that he must try them when they get home. Others suggest having a list of 3 things that they are allowed not to like but insisting that they must try everything that is not on the list that is presented to them at mealtimes.
This did get me thinking as I rarely give mine much say in what we are having with the exception of weekend lunchtimes – our dinners are planned in advance and they get what they are given but I am definitely going to try to include Max (four year old) in the planning process a bit more as he’s getting old enough to understand and contribute in a reasonably sensible way.
Another strategy is one which sees you giving them a glamorous role model to look up to in their eating. Whether that be telling them that footballers have to eat vegetables and fruit if they want to play for [insert relevant team] or letting them learn from an admired older child. I have found on a couple of occasions that Max has decided he likes something when he’s seen his cousins eating it (ok, once it was pancakes but still) and I’ve also seen him have the same effect on other kids with his intense fruit marathons.
For the children where the issue is something deeper there were a couple of strategies mentioned that sound worth some exploration if this is something you’re currently experiencing.
The first was Lucy Cooke’s own “tiny tastes” which is essentially offering tiny morsels of unloved foods, crucially away from the mealtime situation to reduce the pressure, on a regular basis to slowly build up tolerance to different tastes and textures. Children are allowed to lick it and spit it out but they must try the food in their mouths. The idea is to give them some feeling of control over the situation whilst expanding their taste horizons.
The second was a new technique, pioneered by Keith Williams and called Plate A, Plate B. The method involves having one plate with, again, minuscule bits of food that the child doesn’t like to eat and another with safe foods. The child must then alternate bites from Plate A and Plate B so that they have a feeling of safety with one plate but are being encouraged to push their boundaries with the other. Apparently this method has had some amazing results including with some kids on the autism spectrum.
Ultimately what I took from this phone in was what a very emotive subject this is for so many parents and, again, one with which so many of us struggle.
I hold my hands up here and admit that it’s one also that’s pretty close to my heart because I was a very fussy eater as a child and I still remember that sense of fear when going to a friend’s house about whether or not I would be served something I could eat and this is something that I really don’t want for my kids (also, the extra cooking, no thanks). I’m really keen to break that cycle so whilst I’m still terrible with fruit it’s something I’ve kept determinedly hidden from them so they currently have no idea that mummy doesn’t like the 27 apples they eat a day.
Perhaps the next step is a fruits tiny tastes for me!