While chicken nuggets and chocolate might seem like a winning combo to your toddler, these common favourites are not exactly ideal for their growing bodies. Fussy stages are typical for children, particularly between the ages of 2 and 5. While these phases are to be expected, it’s important to encourage new tastes early on in life, to avoid any prolonged distastes for nourishing foods like cauliflower, fish and – *cue whisper* – celery.
Sell and model it
As with their everyday language and behaviour, children absorb the words and actions of their environment. When you – bravely and admirably – decide to bite the bullet and offer up a new food, speak oh-so fondly of it; discuss how delicious it smells and tastes, parade its colour, flavour and whatever else you can boast about carrots and other seemingly mundane vegetables. Children are highly observant and are constantly listening and noticing your reactions, which is why pushing broccoli to the side of your own plate is a big no-no.
Invest them in the process
You might be left with considerably more crumbs or sauce all over the stove-top but inviting your fussy eater into the kitchen is one of the best ways to encourage positive eating habits. Children are more likely to try foods that they have helped prepare; this could be washing vegetables or topping dessert with fruit. Recruiting your toddler’s help at the supermarket to select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods is also a great way to involve them early. And the bonding experience is a bonus!
Present food creatively
Presentation is crucial; for both top-tier chefs and fussy toddlers, the presentation can make or break a dish. For instance, adding a few leaves of spinach to your child’s brightly coloured smoothie is a great way to introduce leafy greens, while chopped vegetables can be added to familiar favourites like pasta sauces or home-made pizza. To introduce healthy snacking, try slicing, dicing or chopping the chosen foods and filling up a muffin tray. Using cookie cutters to turn fruits and vegetables into fun shapes can also encourage more positive eating experiences.
Start small and avoid pressure
A common mistake when introducing new foods is giving too much too soon. When proposing a new flavour, smaller is always better. Giving large portions of unfamiliar foods can be overwhelming for your little one and can result in complete refusal and – heaven-forbid – dinner-time tantrums. Additionally, avoid putting too much pressure on your child, as this can cause not only a stubborn power struggle but also poorer eating habits in the long-term.
Persevere, but stick to what works
Tomatoes might turn into tears and carrots could, by all means, foster dramatic, bound-to-the-floor breakdowns. The trick is to have patience and persevere; resist the urge to reward those manic, gruelling, unjustified tantrums with lollies, bread or whatever might appease their appetite and end the dinner chaos – because heaven-forbid you put two sticks of celery on their plate! Ensure there is always something familiar on the plate and be consistent with your efforts. That fish and side of broccoli will eventually go down swimmingly.