Hands up those of us who have had fussy eaters in the family at one time or another?

Of the many people I work with, mums and dads often come to see me because they want their babies/children to enjoy a good healthy relationship with food. It is a very fortunate parent whose baby/child/teenager eats most things and they are, sadly, in the minority.

Where shall we start?
With babies, if they are refusing milk/certain foods there may be a medical reason – for example, a baby I knew who refused milk from very early on, was later diagnosed as having a very rare intolerance to protein.

They use their instincts. Often babies will wean beautifully and then start rejecting even their favourite foods around the age of 1 which can be to do with teething, or at the age of 2 which is all part of the ‘terrible twos’ and – dare I say it – a bit of a control thing.

How we deal with this at the very beginning will make a huge difference to outcomes and happy mealtimes. In the main, children are looking for a reaction – we nurture and care for them and this is our Achilles Heel. It is so easy to replace a food because we feel that we need to ‘get something into them’.

I remember despairing when my younger daughter was 15 months old (she is now a fit; active and healthy 28 year old) as she would eat nothing but baked beans for every meal. I was fortunate to have a very wise health visitor who said to just put whatever we were eating in front of her and if she rejected it, calmly… remove it and give her the beans and that gradually it would evolve and she would eat normally.

This is exactly what happened. The keeping calm was very tricky but it made a HUGE difference and lowered stress levels at mealtimes – very important for everyone. Another trick is to get the children involved with what you are cooking – although I appreciate that with the best will in the world, that isn’t always possible.

Try having their friends around for meals – the friends who eat everything… and try, wherever possible, not to use pudding as a ‘reward’ – how many of us – hand on heart – can follow this sanction through?

This is where mixed messages start creeping in. I could write for ever on this subject, but the main thing that I want to say is – don’t panic; keep calm; keep re-introducing the foods that they won’t eat; don’t make too big a deal when they start eating properly; try and eat together wherever possible and make eating a social activity.

Remember that sometimes we worry unnecessarily – they are often growing and thriving whilst we are worrying and stressing!

By Michele Newton, the Cookery Academy to By Michele Newton, the Four Seasons Cookery Academy, www.cookeryacademy.co.uk.

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