How many of you have had times when your child would eat quite a variety of foods then times when they seem to want only certain types, textures, colours? It can be really frustrating as a parent when they go through these phases.

Why do they get fussy at certain stages?

Well, initially they can become fussy around the same time as they become mobile. The theory goes that they would become fussy at this stage if they were living in the wild and choosing food for themselves for the first time. They would be suspicious of bitter or sour flavours for example as these could mean a food was poisonous to them.

Whilst that can explain what happens to toddlers it doesn’t explain the renewed fussiness that can sometimes come along when the children are older. It seems that we have been through a phase of fussiness with both our children at about the age of 8. I can gladly report that my daughter is out of this now and thankfully my son also seems to be coming out of this phase again but it has been tough.

The good news is that as children get older you can reason with them more and that’s what worked so well with our daughter. The plan of action went something like this:

We started eating together for as many meals in the week as possible. This became special to us all and we cleared the dining table and lay it every night. One child had the job of laying the table, the other became the ‘runner’ of food to the table. That helped in terms of their involvement.

Where possible I also tried to get the children involved in the cooking process. This became the routine – the kids would come home from school and do their homework in the kitchen where 1) I could help them if needed, 2) they could do their homework in full view of me preparing an evening meal. They knew what was being cooked, what to expect on their plates and they could even get their appetite going with the smells from the hob, oven or Thermomix.

The importance of a balanced meal is a subject we discuss away from the table. The table is more relaxed. Away from the table it is important never to focus on healthy eating with a view to weight management. However, you can find the triggers that work for your child. For my daughter it is about skin and hair health. She loves natural beauty products and so it’s ideal for me to present the “clean on the inside, clean on the outside” argument. Suffice to say, this would not work for my son! He needs to know which foods are going to help him concentrate (he plays in a lot of chess tournaments which can sometimes last all day) and which foods will improve his energy level (he loves hockey too).

We don’t bargain with the kids either (though I know my husband’s default mode, which is something he encountered in his own childhood, is to do so so that’s not always an easy task). They are NOT told “eat this and you will get your pudding”.

We do, however, encourage them to try everything on their plate. If they really don’t like something after trying it over and over again then they don’t have to have it on their plate. I will counter this though by saying that we still put mushrooms in bolognaise even though my daughter doesn’t like them. That’s because she’ll have mushrooms in bolognaise at a friend’s house and she’ll have to know what to do. She really doesn’t like mushrooms so at home she will take them out. That’s what I would also expect her to do at a friend’s house if served mushrooms, perhaps with a brief explanation as to why.

Children’s involvement in meal planning and choices is the key to getting them to eat a more varied diet. I advise not doing this in the supermarket where the temptation will be to buy lots of ‘child-oriented’ products that are not that healthy at all. I tend to ask the children at home when I am planning the week’s meals if they would prefer “home-made chicken nuggets or wild salmon fishcakes” for example and for vegetables would they like “broccoli or cauliflower, carrots or sweet potato”. This involvement appears to be the key to turning a fussy eater into a keen eater. It does seem to be working for our son. It’s just a very slow and repetitive process. The upside is that there’s been plenty of time lately to chat over our evening meal!

I do hope that me sharing our own experiences can help you too. x