How to help your child to enjoy food
If every meal turns into a battle, don't despair. Anjana Gosai reveals six savvy strategies that will help expand your child's taste buds
You may stock up on wholesome ingredients and spend time preparing mini culinary feasts for your child, but more often than not, getting them to eat up or even try a new food isn't an easy task.
We all want mealtimes to be a fun and sociable family experience, so it can be frustrating when a child rejects certain foods. But this behaviour is perfectly natural.
'All babies and toddlers go through a fussy eating period,' says nutritional therapist Catherine Jeans. 'A child may refuse a food one day, but love it a few weeks later, so don't panic or assume they don't like something just because they're not eating it.'
Research shows that nearly half of all kids become picky eaters between the age of two and six, with British toddlers being the fussiest in Europe. However, a few smart tactics can guide even the most finicky eater to widen their palate and enjoy their meals.
Be sure to offer your tot a wide range of nutritious foods the minute you start weaning them, particularly since eating habits established in early childhood have been shown to follow you into adulthood.
'The earlier your child gets used to eating a range of flavours, the more likely they are to accept different tastes as they grow up,' Catherine advises.
Whatever it is your child refuses to eat, there are techniques to help expand their tastes and persuade them to try a variety of nutritious foods – and that way you'll both be happy.
1. Plan out your sales pitch
The way we describe food can help entice kids into eating it, so pay attention to how you 'sell' whatever you're serving. When we describe something like chocolate cake we tend to talk about its taste – 'This icing is so sweet' – whereas when we serve healthy foods we tend to focus on the nutritional qualities – for example, 'This broccoli is full of vitamins.'
'Talk about the sensory properties of the food and not the nutritional aspects,' says sociologist and child-feeding expert Dina Rose. 'Describing food based on its nutritional qualities has been shown to make kids spurn the nutritious food. But telling them what something will taste like gives them the kind of information that adults would use to decide whether or not they will eat something new,' Dina says. Use exciting words to describe the shape, colour and texture as well as the taste, such as, 'This carrot is a lovely orange colour, and it's sweet and crunchy.' The more descriptive you are, the more tempting the food will seem.
2. Make eating fun
Making mealtimes exciting and seeing food through your kids' eyes is a smart way to improve their eating habits. 'Try to prepare interesting, child-friendly meals,' advises Catherine.
'Be inventive – make faces out of food, form mashed potato mountains with foods sticking out of it or create grated carrot hills,' she suggests.
Playing games can also help to engage their imagination, spark their interest in new food and encourage them to try new things. 'Get your child to pretend to be a character, such as a dinosaur or fairy princess, and ask them to eat the broccoli trees or collect all the treasure on their plate.'
Jenny, 39, mum to seven-year-old Roma and five-year-old Mili, says, 'My girls are more inclined to try new things when I serve them food that captures their interest. They love eating something like pizza faces, which I make using olives as eyes, peppers as a moustache and mushroom noses, or vegetable landscapes made of broccoli trees and cherry tomato toadstools.'