Getting children to eat healthily can be challenging, let alone trying to get them to show enthusiasm to eat fruit and veggies.
I regularly help children over the age of 5 (and their parents!) overcoming the anxiety of trying new foods or getting over any traumatic experiences with food, such as food poisoning.
I treat my little fussy eating clients by using a mix of nutritional therapy and hypnotherapy.
Fussy eating is a widespread problem in the UK and altering a habit – without the help of hypnosis I dare say – is a challenge and involves commitment and consistency.
According to research fussy eating is the result of the child developing a sense of independence and control and how the parents react to it.
Anna Groom (NHS Pediatric Dietitian) and Claire Potter funder of www.stopfussyeating.uk have developed a great approach to fussy eating which has been fully adopted by the NHS in recent years and work very well alongside hypnotherapy.
According to this approach:
• The child should see food not just as a physiological requirement but also a time to converse with his family and experience new tastes, textures, smells and sensations. Food should be a positive experience and the dinner table should be free from tension, negotiations, arguments, punishments, and orders about food and eating.
New research recommends an approach which is not about making children non-fussy, but it is about developing positive, relaxed, open minded attitude to food.
• Children are not naturally fussy but when they turn 2-3 years old they start noticing that fussy-eating is attracting a lot of attention as parents really care about what they are eating, and that is when they start being “difficult” about food.
• Parents should try to avoid using phrases we heard from own parents such as: “you are going to sit here until you have eaten it” or “think of all the starving children” or “finish that last bit, it is not good to waste food”, “you won’t grow big and strong if you don’t eat..”. Unfortunately, this approach won’t encourage the child to eat and might only increase tension at the dinner table – the emphasis should be on the enjoyment of food.
• Children have very little power in their life, and eating is one area they soon learn it is easy for them to have a lot of power on! By rejecting certain foods and insisting on others they can control us emotionally and physically. So just simply give your child the food and act as if you don’t mind whether they eat it or not.
• Stay in control of the shopping and the cooking – parents oversee what to serve, children are in charge of whether to eat it or not…The aim is to present a variety of meals – the ones they love, the ones they hate and the ones they are not sure about.
It can take anything between 7 to 20 times before a child try a new food, they are exposed to and they are not sure about.
• Don’t use pudding as a reward or punishment “if you eat up your lunch you can have chocolate pudding” or “if you don’t eat up your lunch you won’t have chocolate pudding!”. The message we are sending this way is that the main course is not enjoyable, just something to endure to get to the good bit. The pudding! Instead than pudding try to give a piece of fruit or a yogurt and try to limit a sugary pudding to once a week as a treat rather than as a regular thing.
• Don’t force the child to eat anything (for example by spoon feeding them) as that will make the table a very unhappy place and could create some very deep long-term issue around food.
• Keep their diet as savory as possible (at least 90%). There are a lot of calories in sugar but nothing else and the more a child eats sugary food the less will be interested in healthy savory food.
• Keep offering them the food they don’t eat as I mentioned before it takes more than 7 times for a child to be curious enough to try a new food.
• Don’t make comments at mealtime – just give your child the food and say nothing. Talk about other stuff, not about food or eating. Don’t watch and monitor what they eat or don’t eat. Also don’t ask them what they had at school as constantly referring to the food or the meal put the child under a lot of pressure and gives him/her the power to react against it.
• Keep introducing them to new and unfamiliar food together with the food they are comfortable with – just in small portions so that there is not much waste if they don’t eat the new food.
• Try to offer the vegetables first when they are very hungry as it is more likely that they are going to eat them.
• Let the child eat at their own pace…even if they take very long! And try not to rush them.
• Don’t praise the child by saying “well done you have eaten it all!” as that sends the message to the child that eating is unpleasant and something they must do instead food must be seen as something enjoyable, pleasant and a wonderful part of life!
• Ban words like “yuk” or “I don’t like this”.
Claire Potter is the author of “ Getting The Little Blighters to Eat”.