Written by: Cally Worden
From the day weaning begins, most parents are collating an array of smart techniques to gain and hold their child’s interest in food. Veg in clever disguises, aeroplane antics with spoons, pasta arranged to look like a face. You name it, parents try it. Despite these best efforts, however, many kids develop picky eating habits that frustrate and infuriate their parents. To prevent these picky periods becoming a problem it’s important to remain innovative, and show kids that food can be fun. Here are a few fresh ideas to add to your Food is Fun toolbox. Bring on dinnertime!
Open up Your Kitchen
Not literally of course – letting kids run riot with knives, blenders and hot stoves is not going to end well. No, I mean invite your kids into the kitchen to help prepare meals and play with food. Try these fun ideas:
- Cutting food into fun shapes with cookie cutters – dino-shaped sandwiches anyone?
- Invent a new snack together – something as simple as mix of cereal and dried fruits can pique their interest and liven up their lunchbox in one fell swoop
- Build or make something with food – make a garage from crackers, or a game of Jenga with carrot sticks. Or make faces on pizzas with a range of toppings that your child can choose from
- Name a meal after your child – Pete’s Perfect Pasta, or Dawn’s Delicious Salad
- Play with Pasta – pasta shapes on a tray can be used to spell out words – take it in turns to create a word and see who can guess it first.
Make Meals and Snacks Interesting
We’re not all gourmet chefs and after slaving away to create a meal the whole ‘presenting it nicely on the plate’ thing can feel like a step too far. But slopping your kid’s meal onto the plate is not going to enhance its appeal, and may actively turn off your child’s interest. Think smart in the way you offer food to your child, and keep it interesting:
- Cut mini bagels in half and create a snake shape on the plate, topping each half with something different. Raisins or olives make the perfect snake eyes
- Thread hot dog sausages onto uncooked spaghetti, then cook as normal – the result is a hot dog ‘necklace’
- Use English muffin halves as a base for pizza – these can work as faces, wheels, or simply pretty circle patterns when decorated creatively
- Cut finger foods into geometric shapes – circles, squares, rectangular sticks and triangles can all be put together to make many different types of images – challenge your child to create their own ‘house’, ‘rocket’ or ‘animal’ shape on their plate
If All Else Fails …
Don’t beat yourself up if, after monumentally creative efforts, your child still moans about what’s on their plate. Here are some tried and tested solutions, depending on your mood and reserves of patience:
- The Shrug – ‘That’s ok darling. If you’re not hungry you can’t finish your meal. Oh, and you don’t need dessert if your tummy is already so full.’ – Then breeze away to the kitchen with the half-eaten remains of dinner and ignore the protests. If you can remain strong and ignore the protests the mere threat of this in the future will generally be enough to make them eat
- The Bribe – ‘Eat this and you can have your Chocolate mousse!’ – My son is particularly fond of this one. Hey, it works, right?
- The Negotiation – ‘Okay, you eat 5 more mouthfuls and we’ll call it a day.’ Sometimes a finite number can make a child feel more in control, and stop a meal feeling like an endless chore
- The Very Bad Day – ‘Here, have the ice cream anyway, you’ve been a really good girl today.’ This should be followed closely by a visit to the Adult Stash for a glass of wine.
Don’t beat yourself up about it!
Always keep in mind too that children, like adults, simply dislike some foods. It’s important with young children to keep presenting them though, as tastes do change over time. Just try not to get too hung up about stuff. It’s a tricky call to find a balance between insisting your kids try a varied diet, and effectively force-feeding them foods they hate. Try to hold onto to the following four truths, and you will be okay:
- No child ever starved themselves to death by refusing to eat
- You have a responsibility to expose your child to a range of foods to help them grow into adults who have a healthy attitude towards their diet
- Kids will try it on whenever they can – the dinner table is a battleground like any other, it’s not your food that’s at fault
- If you make mealtimes a big deal then the issues will quickly escalate. Stay chilled, be persistent, and allow a little give and take within acceptable boundaries of pickiness that YOU set
Then Eat. Sleep. Prepare to do Battle. Repeat.