This article is written by Danni from The Figure. Danni is a qualified nutrition coach and fitness trainer.
Harper – aged 1 year, 23 months and 20 days – ok FINE she’s basically 2. Yes I have a good eater – she will literally eat anything – and when I say anything I mean every single vegetable, flavour, recipe, dish I serve up to her. She will happily finish all her broccoli and asparagus and ask for seconds. She will ask me for more beans, she will polish off smoked salmon, finish a punnet of tomatoes, eat a curry, chew a steak, chow down beetroot, spoon in lentils and steal my corn. Yes – I am proud that I have created a good eater – and I can’t wait to share how through my experience.
Creating A Good Eater
This is a topic I am so passionate about for so many reasons. We all know how important it is for our children to get all their nutrients. Ensuring our kids get all their vitamins and minerals is it vital for their development of all their cells including brain function, organ function, bone strength, and energy production. Not only this – but ensuring our kids eat a variety of food, and enjoy nutrient dense food creates great habits for the future, and ensures a positive and healthy relationship with food as they grow into teens and young adults.
It all looks amazing on paper right – I mean – of COURSE Danni. No one wants a fussy child and let’s be honest – no one likes a fussy adult either – you know – the one who’s “oh but I don’t like blah blah blah blah” and you can never find a menu they’re happy with (if that’s you #sorrynotsorry but read on). The amazing thing is – you can change habits AND you can change your palate and what it likes. Yup, I said it – even as adults we change our habits all the time and train ourselves to create new ones (think of all the new habits you’ve created since having a baby – unconscious habits like changing nappies, putting milk in a bottle – that were once new and confusing are now instilled in you. ) The same goes for our food tastes. I remember very clearly HATING wine as a 16 year old – thinking YUK – now, you can’t get the bottle out of my hand – but that’s a story for another day.
If you’re reading this and you are just starting to wean onto solids you are at an advantage -woohoo clean slate (check out my weaning blog here too ) but I promise you no matter what age your child is they can learn to love good food – you may just have to work a little harder.
“I encourage you to be open and honest about food as you go through this transition.”
So – here’s my truth bomb – are you ready…….it’s not our child that is the issue here…it’s YOU. Shut the front door – yup – sorry Mumma (& Dadda) this is training you and not them. I hear so many parents message me saying “Danni – my child will only eat plain pasta and bread…..” “Danni, my child will only eat blueberries….””Danni, my child won’t eat vegetables unless I hide them…” “my baby doesn’t like brocooli…” The thing is – your child is most probably not doing the food shopping – nor are they the ones (usually) putting those foods on their plates – that my friend – is your job. So this is all about YOU. You want your kids to understand what good nutrition looks like, how they help you grow. Hiding them in the hope they will eat them is just avoiding the actual issue – so I encourage you to be open and honest about food as you go through this transition. Remember – kids are super adaptable and it won’t take long if you stick to your guns.
There are 3 things right now I want you to put into your internal computer (your brain), write down, say to yourself every day and never ever forget…read.
Repeat – patience, persistence, consistency.
If I want ANY outcome in life – these are my 3 go to’s.
“If possible – eat as a family. Seeing you eat at the same time is encouraging.” – Creating A Good Eater
Now I know mumma – you’re thinking but the tantrums, the cries, the stress, the mess, the anxiety, the easy way out……is just to give in. But remember why you’re doing this. This IS NOT about you. This is about their development and their future – and I promise if you can keep calm – and push through THIS – it will help you in so many more areas of your life too. SO…..here are my top tips – to create a great eater – remembering one thing – THEY WON’T STARVE. I know – you think they’ll wake up hungry, the poor things…..they won’t – if they’re hungry they will eat, they are little baby animals, and if you or I were hungry I promise you – you’d probably eat anything put in front of you too (but let’s hope it doesn’t quite get that far.)
- Meal times should be calm and enjoyable. This means – TV off (sorry Dad). This means that your voice stays calm the whole time. The minute there is any tantrums, or screams – I take Harper out of the highchair and we do a little reset. Walk around the room – have a chat and reset in 5 minutes.
- If possible – eat as a family. Seeing you eat at the same time is encouraging
- Positive reinforcement – “oh yummy carrot – carrot is great for your eyes so you can see in the dark”, “oh yummy chicken – mummy loves chicken because it makes you big and strong” “Mummy’s eating her broccoli because it’ll keep me healthy when I grow up just like you”
- ALWAYS – put vegetables on the plate. It doesn’t matter if they don’t eat them – but keep putting them there and eventually they will pick them up. Exposure exposure exposure.
- Ensure there is at least 2 hours between snacks and meals. They need to be hungry. Constant snacking means they won’t be ready for their main meal.
- I always put 1 thing on Harper’s plate she loves – potato, sweet potato, roasted pumpkin (ok there are a lot for her but you get my drift) something nutritious that you know they’ll eat.
- DO NOT – this is a biggie – DO NOT offer something else if they don’t eat what you have given them. All you are doing is saying “you don’t eat this I’ll just give you something else” They are clever cookies and will just not eat what you’ve given because they know something else is coming. I know you’re going to want to – but you must be strong.
- Avoid sweet snacks – sugar is addictive – it releases dopamine – the same hormone released when using heroin and cocaine. It is overpowering and kids (and adults) need to learn to love bitter and savoury flavours. Too much sugar in a diet means it’s harder for them to learn this
- They don’t HAVE to eat everything. When I was growing up, (and my parents) it was all about “finish your dinner before you leave the table”. Fact is – we don’t want to encourage our kids to eat when they’re full. Once they feel full and have had enough – forcing our kids to eat is not encoring a good relationship with food.
- Talk to them as you’re making dinner – tell them what they’re having and the good things it’s going to do for them.
- Offer them loads of different flavours so they get used go trying lots of different things – so they’re not afraid to try new flavours and textures. Training their brain to accept different things.
- Babies and toddlers especially – don’t know what they do and don’t like yet. Just because they rejected a food once or twice does not mean they don’t like it – it just means they haven’t been exposed to it enough. Keep exposing. It could take 5 -10 times for them to enjoy something so giving up won’t help. This also applies to you girlfriend – so if you find yourself being super fussy – it might be time to teach yourself to like something. Step out of that comfort zone.
“This is not a signal to offer something sweet, just keep doing what you’re doing.” – Creating A Good Eater
There are lots of reasons why babies, toddlers and children also go off food – so remembering this can help you feel calmer about the experience.
- Teething – when teeth are moving around babies/toddlers can go off their food. This is not a signal to offer something sweet, just keep doing what you’re doing
- Illness – the last thing most of us feel like doing when sick is eating big meals, be patient – once they’re better they will eat
- Just not hungry – maybe they didn’t run around as much that day, or had a bigger lunch – that’s ok.
So deep breath mumma – I promise you if you are CONSISTENT, PERSISTENT and PATIENT – you can have a good eater. Kids are sponges and will watch everything you do – so make sure you are setting good examples, and showing them fabulous habits around food. When educating our kids around food – it’s also a good time to look at our own food intake and think about what message we are sending them. After all – they have a whole lifetime ahead of them – lets ensure they are going in to it with fuelled healthy bodies and minds. You got this mumma x
Danni is mum to 2 year old Harper, a nutrition & fitness coach as well as a mummy blogger. She is raw, honest & loves helping other mums navigate motherhood through her experience.
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