iStock_000001598228XSmallHow do I get my seven-year-old to eat a variety of foods? My daughter has her six or seven "agreeable'' foods and all other foods she refuses. Should I be seeing a professional about this. I can't seem to coax her to even trying foods she doesn't deem agreeable. My three year old loves all types of food as do I and my husband. Mum of two

Some children can become very fussy and narrow-minded in their choices when it comes to food.  They have a short list of the foods that they will eat and refuse to try other foods.  Mealtimes can either become a battle ground where you as the parent have spent time preparing the meal and when they stubbornly refuse to even try a nibble then you either give up or become fixed on trying to make them eat it.  Either way you usually end up frustrated.

There is however another way.  Firstly I would just double check how your child is going when it comes to the weight and height charts and check they are on track, because if they are underweight then the strategies are similar but at the same time different.  If weight is ok,  I suggest cutting back to three main meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner.  With these meals the aim is for your child to eat the majority of the meal (your call on what the majority is, not theirs!) once this is happening then go back to adding in morning and afternoon tea.

From a nutritional perspective, children regularly eat 5 times a day so cutting back to 3 meals is quite okay.  Now make these meals count – make every bite count!  So you choose what is presented at the meal.  Remember that you have probably 20years + experience than your child, so you have a better idea of what a balanced diet looks like so you make the choices not them.  Make sure that the food offered is healthy, every bite of it and is easy to eat for most 7 year olds.  Include a range of fruit, vegetables, yoghurts, cheese, cold meat, plain crackers, pasta, mince, eggs, rice etc.

Next step behaviour, outline before you start a meal what you expect that they will sit and the table and eat their dinner.  If they do not eat, they remain there while the rest of the family eats, then there is no other food until the next main meal.  They do not get an exemption and get to play extra, or watch tv.  They simply wait and participate in the mealtime.  Then follow up with what you say –no food until the next meal.  They can have as much water as they like, no milk, no juice etc or else they will simply fill up on this instead.  Next meal, same plan.

As for your job as a parent:  when they take the tinest bit, be ready and say something like: ‘Oh, good to see you giving the pasta a try’, aside from that say nothing, no song and dance, no threatening, no conning. Nothing.  Take no notice of ‘not eating’.  Only notice ‘eating’.  Ignore all complaining, sighing, refusal to eat, dramatics, words to the affect of not liking the meal, or i don’t eat this.  Just stay calm and ignore non eating behaviour.  Wait for any sign of trying.  When you see it praise it and include eye contact and smiles.  Remember, you are the parent and you have the knowledge as too what they should and need to eat – not them.

Be patient and consistent with dealing with the behaviour.  Within a week you will see big steps towards eating and trying new foods.  Of course, do not hesitate to seek out a professional with advice in regards to the type of food, and how to deal with the behavioural side of not eating so you can get family meal times back on track for you all!


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