A fussy eater can turn a household upside-down. We’re not even being dramatic – any parent who has dealt with one will agree. But is there a solution? If anyone can tell us, it’s the ‘child whisperer’ Chrissie Davies. We asked her to share her secrets.
As a child behaviour expert with more than 20 years’ experience in the biz, Chrissie knows a thing or two about understanding children. So when it comes to feeding a fussy eater – an issue that thousands, if not millions of Aussie parents deal with – we couldn’t think of a better person to talk to.
“Generally, in my experience challenges related to children’s eating fall into two main categories: fussy eaters, and problem feeders,” says Chrissie. “Issues with a fussy eater are generally behaviour based and can usually easily be shifted through attitudes and approaches to food, eating and mealtimes.
“Problem feeders, on the other hand, have challenges often related to their senses, and have genuine strong aversions to the textures, smells and sight of new foods. These things cause a physical response in children and go deeper than them simply trying to avoid eating.”
Chrissie explains that fussy or picky kids will generally say “yuck” a lot and refuse to eat meals that families have prepared – even if they may have eaten them previously.
“These kids also have a lot of trouble being engaged at the table and may take extended periods of time to finish,” says Chrissie. “These are avoiding behaviours and are not at all connected to the food on the table.”
Fussy eating can emerge at any time, but it’s generally around the age of two that we see children begin to assert themselves and make decisions around the things they choose to eat – or not to eat.
“While all children are vastly different, two is also the peak age for tantrums, so families will see an increase in emotional outbursts and refusal to eat family meals,” says Chrissie. “Once negative patterns and habits are formed around food, children don’t tend to grow out of them – so it’s worth investing time and energy whilst they are young to encourage your children to be adventurous when it comes to food.”
According to Chrissie, fussy eating often stems from the way that a family approaches mealtime, and their own attitudes towards food and eating.
“When we approach eating as a skill that must be taught right from the time children start eating solids, our kids will learn that eating is a vital means for fuelling our brains and bodies,” says Chrissie. “Attitudes towards mealtime are still very strongly connected to parental control and our own feelings of inadequacy if our children do not eat five serves of vegetables each day.
“The truth is that children just aren’t wired to sit still for extended periods of time at a table, nor do they have any emotional attachment to lovingly prepared meals.”
What’s more, children do not have any conceptual understanding about why foods are healthy or unhealthy. That’s why Chrissie teaches that all food is just food – it’s not good or bad, but rather what our bodies and brains need to keep them functioning at their fullest capacity.
“Our attitude and mindset towards eating is everything, as this is what our children will grow up learning, observing and feeling,” says Chrissie. “Committing to regular family meals has shown to have incredibly positive impacts on our children’s eating, while switching off all technology and encouraging discussions around the able will teach them the importance of connecting as a family after a long day.”
Chrissie explains that children learn best through doing and experiencing, so providing them with opportunities to see how produce is grown or picking fruit from a tree will help them understand how mealtimes come together.
“Getting them involved in cooking and preparing meals as much as possible will also help, as this is how they learn about the labour that goes into preparing meals each night,” says Chrissie. “Ensuring that kids come to the table hungry is also really important, as is only offering one main meal.”
CHRISSIE’S TOP TIPS
- Always eat together at the table with your children modelling how to have healthy relationship towards food and eating.
- Teach your kids from an early age that food is vital for their brain development. Their brains need to be eating lots of different types of foods to keep it happy and healthy. When we feed our brains “we can make better choices and feel better in our whole bodies.”
- Timing is everything. When children are tired, they simply will not eat, and we see an increase in challenging behaviour at the table.
- Make sure that your kids are seated at the right height at the table – this will change everything! Their elbows should be able to rest comfortable on the table and be seated at a 90-degree angle with their feet supported if possible.
- Kids are amazingly simple, but beautiful little creatures. They do not really care for fancy curries or slow soaked meats that you have taken hours to prepare. They are not invested in the process yet, so do not take it personally if they do not want to eat the meal that you have spent hours preparing.
- Lastly, please refrain from telling your kids to “stop playing with your food!” – this is them engaging with their food and the more they explore and manipulate a new food, the more likely it is that it will eventually end up in their mouth on their own terms.
When it comes to making meal time a bit more fun for your fussy eater, you can’t go past the FunBites food cutter (which simply and safely cuts your child’s food into bite-sized pieces!) or the brand-new Yumbox Chop Chop. Those colourful containers are perfect for allowing your children to choose their own food combinations, whether it’s for their Yumbox or for family pizza night, from a selection of pre-chopped, healthy ingredients.
MORE ABOUT CHRISSIE
Chrissie Davies is a child behaviour expert with over 20 years’ experience working with children and families. Her debut children’s book “Love your brain” is getting rave reviews from people far and wide. Chrissie strongly believes that empowering children to understand how eating and food are connected to keeping brains healthy and happy is the most important tool parents will even need when it comes to mealtimes and your child’s eating.