Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Planning for fussy eaters...

Meal planning is an essential element to addressing the issues around fussy eating. It can help us to spend not only less time grocery shopping but you’re also more likely to spend less if you go in armed with a list and you stick to it.  Recent statistics suggest that we waste on average, 30% of the food we buy.   

So as well as being a good way to ensure that you’re planning well for your children’s meals, the long term benefits are good for the family as a whole.

The more organised you are about the shopping, the less stressed you’ll be at meal times. If you’re a parent of a fussy eater, you know only too well how difficult it can be to put a last minute meal together that is not only healthy but also appealing to your child.  Try to include some of what they eat and also make it a little more challenging for them by including a few new things for them to try.

Typically, by the time dinner rolls around, it just seems easier to feed that "picky" eater whatever they are going to eat rather than trying to come up with inventive ways to hide their vegetables somewhere in one of the limited meals you child will eat.  As you’ve probably figured out by now, children don’t miss a beat.  It is rare that you’ll get anything past them without them noticing!  

Mealtimes can be stressful for everyone if there is a picky eater in the house.  It can also feel like too much effort and might seem like a waste of time to bother with something they aren't going to eat but this of course, can a dangerous line of thought.  When serving only the food your child will eat, you are just reinforcing their choice to eat a limited range of food rather than a variety that will ensure a healthy balanced diet.  

One of the first steps towards dealing with fussy eaters is to come up with a meal plan and to stick with it.  Aim to have a balance between foods your child will eat and new food that they’ve not yet tried or resisted in the past.  It is important to get the balance right, they will become very distressed if the entire meal contains food they do not like.  

This is where meal planning is important.  Try to plan a week or two in advance, more if you have the time.  Meal planning gives you the opportunity to increase the variety of foods you offer your child.  You can then take the time to find recipes and ideas that will interest your child and also tempt them into trying new food.

Keep the following in mind when planning:
  • Keep the favourites- Meal planning allows you to make sure you have those comforting and familiar meals ready at each meal for your picky eater. I would suggest that you make an exhaustive list of all the foods your child will eat and put these meals into three categories- veg/fruit, starch/carbs, fats/proteins.  Most people are surprised at how many foods are actually on the list.  Include at least some of their preferred food at each meal.
  • Plan based on knowledge- Analyse the meals on that list you’ve compiled of all the foods your child will eat.  Is there a pattern of a particular type of food emerging? If so, try to plan some meals that gradually take them a little out of that comfort zone.  Try to slowly make small changes to some of the foods they eat, you can introduce an element of fun by making faces or interesting layouts on your child’s plate.  Better still, involve them in the preparation to keep them interested.
  • Make a note – Keeping a written record over time will help you to see the new patterns emerging and to spot areas where you can see progress or where a particular trigger such as tiredness etc… impacts on your child’s preferences at meal times.  It is important to see success in interactions with food, too.  Some children won't even look at new foods, if yours touched a carrot for the first time that is success!  Having your meal plan as a visual will let you see the progress your child is making, it will also remind you to go back and try some foods that you had some progress with.  Often, without this visual reminder, it is easy to get stuck in the same old pattern, going back to cooking the same meals week in and week out because it’s easier for everyone.  Unfortunately, it will only become harder in the long run.
The parents of picky eaters are more likely to be more stressed and disorganised at meal times, your child will pick up on this so that is another reason to plan ahead and keep calm at meal times.  Next week, I’ll be going over some strategies to help you address picky eating now that you’ve got the first step which is to plan, plan, and plan!  With a bit of support and some proven techniques to help you get on track, you can look forward to happier meal times and a more stress free day knowing that you are gradually building on the variety of food your child will eat.  Keep an eye out for my next blog post on fussy eating titled “Changing meal time behaviour one meltdown at a time!”
Happy parenting!