It’s been just over a week now since starting my blog and boy have a learnt a lot!
To be honest I’ve never really thought about C’s fussy eating before. I mean, I just deemed it as him being fussy and that’s just how it was.
What this meant was giving C the same 5 meals on repeat, letting him eat separate meals mostly at separate times and hiding all his vegetables in his food. While picky eating is a normal phase for children, C’s has been going on for far too long and I really do need to begin to change things before it follows him into adulthood.
In all honestly, by burying my head in the sand, I’ve been letting C down.
What brought all this to light then? My brilliant mind, my intuition, my innate wisdom, I hear you ask? No (I wish!). I sought a professional opinion and began reading “War and Peas” by Jo Cormack.
Now when I began reading it, I thought it wouldn’t really help. I mean, only I know my child, right? Wrong. A lot rung true with me. It’s written in an easy to understand way and lays out the reasons behind the fussy eating as well as giving you an action plan to follow. It doesn’t teach what to feed your child like so many others, but how to, and how to respond to their picky eating (which I know I struggle with!). Some of the points below were picked up from Jo’s book and I’m feeling pretty confident (though only time will tell!) that I may have found the answer to at least some of my problems.
1. EAF. Jo’s book is based on the EAF principle. EAF stands for emotionally aware feeding. In short, it’s about understanding the psychology behind picky eating and how to respond to it. It doesn’t follow a behavioural parenting technique such as punishing them, or even rewarding them, but takes the attention away from the eating so it’s not an issue anymore. This not only gives the child ownership over his actions (and we all know how much a child likes to be in control) but takes the attention away from them at mealtimes so also eliminates any power struggles that may be emerging. They may even take a cheeky bite of of something they have previously rejected whole they think you are not looking!
Children are delicate creatures and having to sit at a table forced to eat something they don’t want to can cause a lifelong hatred of that food. I remember having to sit at the kitchen table every week and eat a bowl of musili because I didn’t like nuts when I was small. My mum honestly thought she was doing the right thing by getting me used to the taste, but to this day, the taste of nuts makes me feel physically sick. Maybe if id have been left to choose to try the musili myself, I wouldn’t have this psychological response to them now.
2. Exposure. Science has shown that children need to be exposed to a food at least 10 times in order to accept it. If I only stick to the meals I know he likes, or hide all the vegetables in other foods, he’s not being exposed at all. I tended to offer something to him a few times and then give up, deeming it something that he just didn’t like. What I should have done was keep offering a variety of things with each meal, or even better, just give him what we are eating. By giving him separate meals, I was simply reinforcing his fussy eating by teaching him that all other foods were bad. If he leaves it, then he leaves it, but at least he’s been exposed to it and he’s more likely to accept it in the future (or hopefully in school when he starts). Basically, he will not see it as ‘bad’ if he’s seen it lots of times before.
What is also brilliant for exposure is playing with food or letting your child help you cook meals. Mush up some broccoli and let them drive their cars through it, or let them chop a pepper to put with their meal. Just touching and smelling it will get them accustomed to the food. Bonus points if they actually taste it. Just be careful not to pressure them into this.
3. Eating together. Children learn through social interactions and modelling behaviour. What we do, what we eat and how we eat are so important. My partner doesn’t get home until 7 on the days we works and that’s C’s bedtime so I tend to give C his dinner at about 5 and wait until the Mr gets home to eat mine. This resulted in C eating alone, more often than not infront of the TV and sometimes on the sofa. He is learning absolutely nothing here.
Mealtimes were never a special occasion when I was growing up and I guess I’ve mirrored that. We live in a small house which makes things difficult as we have no space for a table but that doesn’t mean that we couldn’t try and squeeze one in or at least still eat together (even if it’s just me, C and baby). I have just never really thought about how important this was.
4. Labelling food. I know that I’ve been guilty of bribing C with sweets or cakes to get him to eat or to behave. This automatically gets him to view sweet things as good and vegetables or even full meals as bad. No wonder he doesn’t get excited about a shepherds pie in the same way he does dessert!
My Action Plan:
- Eat together at every meal even if it’s just me and C.
- If he refuses to eat his meal then don’t give him an alternative.
- Feed him what we are eating, no separate meals. I want to offer him as much variety as possible.
- Keep the focus off his eating at mealtimes.
- Stop rewarding him with sweets and treat all food the same. Get excited about vegetables! Reward with stickers or trips out instead of sweets and chocolate.
- Cook with him lots!
It’s going to be a long road but I’m up for the challenge!