Food for thought
Feeding kids is tricky. According to the International Scale of Difficulty (ISD)* it comes somewhere in-between shearing a sheep and running backwards with your eyes closed.
In the three years I have been feeding my little monkeys, I have learnt many things the most important being that the speed and distance at which food can travel should never be underestimated. When you are ready to let your kids experiment with feeding themselves, place them in a tent and zip it shut. Having not had the sense to do this, we are still finding peach puree on the ceiling and peas on top of the clock.
However, given that a child will never deliberately go hungry and would probably live happily off a combination of Cheerios and yoghurt, I shouldn't say that feeding kids is actually hard.
It's feeding them well that poses a challenge. Children are quick to develop their sweet tooth, incredibly inconsistent in their likes and dislikes, and keen to exercise their will over yours they will push your patience to the brink.
That's not to say they aren't a joy; they are, and you will have endless pictures of them with bowls on their heads and ice cream in their ears as testimony to that.
But there are times when getting a healthy balance of carbs, protein and fats into your children feels like Mission Impossible. And that's where these handy tips come in:
Tips to encourage your fussy eater:
I once read a lunch box tips for kids article that included a tofu salad recipe. Ha! If you are only just weaning your baby now, then you are still chief in charge of taste and you may well be able to introduce nutritional gems easily. However if your child is currently dining exclusively on jam sandwiches and pasta you will have to introduce new healthy options gently.
Start by including a fresh veggie in their lunch box in a fun little pot grape tomatoes, edamames, sticks of yellow and red pepper, carrots and cucumber are all options.
If they are fruit phobic, try making a fruit kebab. It takes seconds to do and is much more fun than regular fruit. Alternate red and green grapes, or strawberries and blueberries for good colour combinations.
Eating something is better than eating nothing.
Sending a child to nursery or big school with an empty stomach is asking for trouble. Hungry kids have trouble concentrating, behave badly and perform poorly academically.
In this respect, something is always better than nothing. If to get breakfast in to your fussy eater you have to compromise what you give them, then so be it. Nobody died because they had Nutella on toast or some hideous toaster waffle for breakfast for a few weeks as a child. View it as a work in progress and make breakfast healthier in increments as the weeks go by. Do be careful to keep the momentum going with the improvements however as helping your child to temper their sweet tooth will make healthy eating much easier in the long run.
Compromising may help you get results long term. Allowing one sweet sandwich with one savoury can get things going, or allow them to choose breakfast one day and you the next.
Keep trying. Be creative.
Just keep trying. Keep offering new foods and encourage your child to try things without the pressure of being told they have to finish them. I know it's hard a kid that refuses to eat is amongst the world's most infuriating things, but keep the atmosphere surrounding food light hearted and fun. Regarding the latter, there's nothing wrong with using cookie cutters for sandwiches or using ZooPal plates to help make meal times fun.
Try not to rush.
I don't know about you but rushing my kids especially over breakfast equals disaster. I have learnt that it's better to let Chloe eat breakfast in the car than to nag her about the next bite before she's barely swallowed the first. There's absolutely nothing wrong with allowing them to eat dry Cheerios and drink milk in the backseat as you meander through the rush hour traffic. (Having said that, I have suffered two ant-invasions in my car due to this philosophy, so make sure you clean up wayward Cheerios quickly.)
Tap into their world.
What is your child into at the moment? Look for inspiration in their world. Chloe is a big fan of Curious George and following the episode where George gets a blender and makes juice, she became a huge fan of smoothies. Other examples Miles stock some great Elmo wholegrain mini-waffles and Dora edamames in the freezer section.
Kids love to eat what they make.
When you have time, get them involved. Scrambling eggs and stirring in sauces are two easy and fun jobs. Try not to stress about the mess, it's nothing that a pack of baby wipes can't fix.
Different types of the same thing.
If your child will only eat pasta, you can still add variety. If you rotate wholewheat pasta, brown rice pasta and quinoa pasta, you are at least delivering a range of different nutrients. The same goes for bread and toast try switching between wheat bread, rye bread and oat bread to help broaden their intake and their taste buds.
Offer choices, but not open ended questions. If you ask “what would you like for breakfast?” and the answer is “ice-cream”, you have no one to blame but yourself. Instead, incorporate some of their favourite but reasonable foods into a choice ie “would you like a smoothie or a sandwich for breakfast?”
Studies show that children who eat as a family are less fussy, possibly because of the distraction that comes with all the chatter at the table. Also little kids like to copy their older siblings. Even if you can't have dinner at the same time, at least sit with your child and talk about their day or read a story. If you are distracted by chores or phone calls, any fuss they make may just be a cry for attention.
Set an example.
You can't expect your child to eat a broad variety of healthy options if you don't do it yourself. Let little ones try things from your plate too as they are naturally curious about what you are eating. I have fed Belle whole meals from what she thought was my plate, and just placed one or two little bits on her tray (which she ignored.)
For babies, combine finger-food and spoon feeding.
Whether you puree everything or follow a baby-led-weaning strategy is up to you. I've had success with doing a bit of both. Let your baby play with a few little bits of well cooked or very soft fruit and veg on their tray; you can shovel spoons of puree in while they are absorbed with the texture of the food they are squishing in their hands. You might also find it works to let your baby hold one spoon while you hold another.
Frozen fruit and veg.
What your child might not like cooked, they might like frozen. Frozen peas or chopped pieces of frozen mango are a big hit in our house and a great way to stave off hunger while you rustle up dinner. Frozen raspberries and blueberries are also great, but more messy watch out for stained fingertips!
Be deceptively delicious.
There is nothing wrong with hiding healthy ingredients in your child's food to help you feel better. Consider adding the Dr Sears kids strawberry and lemon fish oil (Down to Earth) to smoothies/yoghurt, or even hiding it in porridge (start with a very small amount until you get more confident). Mix ground pumpkin seeds into jam in sandwiches. Hide spinach puree in bolognese, butternut squash puree in mac n cheese and blend beans before you put them in Shepherd's pie. Jessica Seinfeld's “Deceptively Delicious” is a great resource if this strategy works well for you.
* This is completely fictional. But you get my point.
A kid-friendly recipe
Healthy kids bolognese with hidden veggies
This recipe is really handy. You can use either beef or turkey - just don't try hiding spinach puree in the turkey version as the whole thing will go bright green. Use pureed butternut squash, or anything else orange… sweet potato, carrot and pumpkin would all work well. My kids are great with beans, but if you struggle with yours, the beans can be pureed too. Give it a try!
1 tbsp olive or safflower oil
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 pack lean Niman Ranch ground beef or ground natural turkey
1 tin organic kidney beans, well rinsed
1 tin chopped tomatoes (no added salt)
2 tbsps tomato puree
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 handful chopped fresh basil, or 1 tsp dried
½ cup spinach (beef) or butternut squash (turkey) puree.
· Steam your chosen hidden veggie until soft. Cool, puree and set to one side.
· Heat the oil gently in a large, non stick pan.
· Add the onion and garlic, stir and then cover and allow to simmer for 5 minutes or until the onions are clear and soft.
· Add the ground beef or turkey, turn up the heat to medium-hot and stir until lightly browned.
· Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil briefly and then simmer gently for 30 minutes.
· Season to taste and serve with spaghetti or any other pasta shapes.
The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns BA Hons, Dip ION is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a Registered Dietitian. She can be contacted at nourishbda[AT]gmail.com