Listen to parents with their children at mealtimes and 95 times out of a 100 you’ll hear things like this:
Come on, have another bite of your sandwich. It’s that type of ham you really like.
I asked you if you wanted peas or sweetcorn and you said peas, so eat them please.
I want you to have a few more mouthfuls at least….I made pasta and pesto because it’s your favourite.
Let’s think about what dynamic is in operation here:
1.The child controls what the parent serves.
2.The parent then tries to control what goes in the child’s mouth.
This is so the norm that it’s easy not to even question it. After all, it seems to make sense: If we give our child the foods they say they like and want, they’re more likely to eat in the first place. And if we then push and encourage them to eat, we’ll get more of the food into them, right?
The secret to stopping fussy eating is to do the very opposite.
Yep, completely flip things around. Reverse the dynamic:
1.The parent controls what they serve the child.
2.The child then controls what goes in their mouth.
Or in other words, serve whatever meals and foods you want to. Then leave it entirely up to them to decide whether and how much of it they eat.
This can sound really scary – and irrational – at first! They’ll eat next to nothing if I do that! you might think. What’s the point in serving them something I know they don’t like? And why would they eat any of it if I don’t encourage or persuade them to? But it really does make a huge difference. Here’s why.
Firstly, it’s about EXPOSURE. A child needs to be exposed to a food on a regular basis to become comfortable and familiar with it – a precursor to actually eating it. When you stay in control of what you serve, you can expose them to a wide variety of meals and foods. If, on the other hand, you let them pick and choose what you serve, they will go for their preferences and favourites and those foods will quickly become their only ‘safe’ foods. They’ll genuinely start to believe they don’t like any other foods and before you know it, you’ll be able to count the number of meals they’ll eat on one hand – and still have fingers left over!
Secondly, it’s about POWER AND ATTENTION. If you completely stop pushing them to eat what’s on their plate, they have nothing to react against and no attention to gain by not eating something. And if there’s no power or attention available in this way, the most enjoyment to be had is from the food itself. Once the pressure to eat is taken away, their natural curiosity about food and their own desire to eat can emerge. Food is, after all, a pleasure. Humans – even little ones – naturally want to explore and eat food. It’s a basic human instinct that we shouldn’t mess with!
So don’t follow the crowd. Put the food you want to serve in front of them and then say nothing more about it. Or to put it simply:
DISH UP, SHUT UP!
Don’t worry. this approach is not about ‘Tough Love’. You don’t have to go ‘cold turkey’ and suddenly start serving them completely new meals. No, you can introduce new and different foods gently and gradually like this to minimize the backlash you get from your child. You can even give them a bedtime snack if you’re worried they’re going to go to bed hungry – as long as you do it in this way that doesn’t exacerbate fussy eating.
This approach is not an overnight fix – that doesn’t exist sadly! – but with time and consistency, it works! Your child will gradually become less and less fussy.
Find out precisely how to implement this approach in Getting the Little Blighters to Eat, a quick and easy book that you can read cover to cover in the time it takes you to drink a (large) glass of wine after a tiring day with your little blighter!