These four words are, without question, the most commonly heard four words at nearly every family dinner table each night. More often then not, it's before a single forkfull has touched the kids fussy little tongues. You wouldn't mind so much if they ate a big mouthful before coming to this frustratingly inevitable conclusion. With the exception of a select few meals or the rare (yet unfortunately convenient) "treat" from the clown or the colonel, it's a nightly struggle to get children to "eat your darn dinner!"
If you get lucky, you may get one or two to have a go. They will reluctantly pick at their plates, fossicing for something that may appeal to their choosy culinary tastes. "I spent hours cooking this" "It's good for you" "Your sister likes it" "Eat it all and you'll get an ice block". The nightly script rarely changes.
It's seriously frustrating as parents; you try to feed your children healthy, nutritious and tasty food, and they just push their plates away. As much as we love to blame ourselves for all our children's "issues", it may not, however, be totally our fault. It's evolution's fault.
Sticking to 'safe' or 'known' foods is an adaptive advantage for young children as they are more vulnerable to poisons. They are naturally - big word alert - neophobic. It's not that the stir fry you spent hours preparing was yucky, its that the little joys are hardwired to be cautious of new foods. Forcing them to eat that tasty quiche may have negative effects as well. Research conducted at Oxford University suggests that "in the long run parental control attempts may have negative effects on the quality of children’s diets by reducing their preferences for those foods"
What about those evil 'snack' foods? "…child feeding strategies that restrict children’s access to snack foods actually make the restricted foods more attractive." Well, yeah, I don't think we need Oxford professors to tell us that.
So, forcing our children to eat their greens and keeping the snacks at a distance are out. So now what?
Give up? Leave them vulnerable to becoming just another disturbing statistic in the ever-increasing problems of childhood obesity and diabetes?
Parents need to be dietary role models for their kids. We the parents buy the food and prepare most meals. We are what we eat and our kids are what we eat as well. Put that delicious and nutritious meal in front of them night after night. They will fight, night after night. Aim to create good eating habits in them by displaying good eating habits yourselves. They may inevitably fall under the spell of peer pressure and eat what "all the other kids are eating", but if we arm them with the right nutrition ammunition (you like that one?), we give them a better chance of making good dining decisions.
It will be frustrating, but, as with every little piece of the parenting puzzle, totally awesome in the long run.
We got lucky, our bunch are, in general, pretty good eaters. Persistence seems to work for us -most of the time. We introduce something once, bring it back every now and then, let them acquire the taste and before we know it: a new favourite! If any of you have any other hints or tips on feeding fussy eaters (apart from the hiding method - that's just cheating- not forming good habits), please share them with the world!
Peace and Love,Brett