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Vegetarianism vs Fussy Eater

This is not something I thought I would have to be addressing but as time goes on it is becoming clear that my 9 year old daughter is getting closer to full vegetarianism. She is still quite inconsistent – she will not eat ham but will eat bacon, will not eat beef but does eat burgers, does not eat pork but still eats chicken (unless her brother makes chicken noises, as that makes her think of the poor chicken and puts her off).

While not being worried about her, it is making life slightly trickier as I try to find things that she likes. She is a vegetable fan, so that helps. Her favourites are broccoli, carrots, green beans and mushy peas. We have recently discovered that she likes spreadable cheese, such as Philadelphia and she loves yoghurt, muesli and fruit. The thing that I am finding tricky is not the main meals, but snacks and picnics. A sliver of Phily cheese on a sandwich doesn’t seem like a filling lunch.

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It did get me thinking about her diet, and the pressure that parents are put under to ensure that their children eat healthily. When I compare my children, it is clear that there was not really much that I did to “teach” them about this.

My daughter has always liked “healthy” food – muesli, yoghurt, fruit, chicken. My son will not eat vegetables. He recently announced that he likes the carrots that are served at school dinners. I quickly ascertained how they were cooking them and they are served regularly now. Hurrah. He eats veg.

He would eat a whole plate of meat and no sides. Pasta is a favourite but he won’t eat rice or potatoes – even roast potatoes. (They are just thick CHIPS, I have been known to mutter as he pushes them to the side of his plate.

So like Jack Spratt and his wife, the children share the food. He eats the meat, she eats the veg and potatoes or rice. Together they are having a balanced meal.

What to do?

It has always been my opinion that the more fuss you make about eating, the more fussy they get. So I serve good plain food, expect both of them to try everything on their plate, even if it is accompanied by expressions of “yuk yuk yukky yuk”.

If your child is a fussy eater, it is easy to get worried about what they are eating and to get obsessed that they are not getting enough “good food”.

First try and stop thinking about nutrients and separating food into good and bad. There is no bad food in a healthy balanced diet. There is just good balance or bad balance.

Then write down what your child eats. You may *think* that he eats almost nothing, but when you look closer you will find that it is not that bad. If you are worried your child is not eating enough, then consider whether you are giving him appropriate portion sizes. My paediatrician said to serve each food item in portions as big as your child’s clenched fist. They have smaller stomachs than we do and we often put much too large a portion on their plate then get cross when they don’t finish their meal.

Cut out snacks between meals, so that when you sit down to eat, your child is really hungry. Make mealtimes a time to sit together and chat about your day. Not possible perhaps for every meal, but try and do this once a day.

Keep trying new things, in different combinations – my son will not eat carrots, but will eat glazed carrots. If they like mashed potatoes, try mashed potatoes with squash or pumpkin (see also stealth veg, below).

Some kids like the taste but not the texture of the food, so try different variations of food. Fried or mashed, boiled or steamed. With and without butter, herbs and spices. Many children like plain food, so don’t worry if they will only eat pasta without sauce. Let them grate their own parmesan onto the top of the pasta – kids love doing that.

Get them involved – we have agreed that the children will cook for us once a week and they enjoy choosing which meal to make. They also love when we make things that they can put together themselves. I toast bagels, offer a variety of fillings – home made chicken nuggets, scrambled egg, beef, with salad and tomatoes, various sauces and ketchups, and serve everything on platters. The kids can help themselves to whatever they want. Another favourite is fajitas (called fat-eaters in our house).

Stealth Veg – hide those suckers everywhere. My kids love soup, so I make a big pot of soup with lots of vegetables, puree and freeze portions. I chop courgettes into tiny pieces and sneak it into bolognese sauce. If they are good at sniffing it out, try liquidising the sauce, they will never notice it.

Some children like to separate their food, and don’t want the sauce mixed with the pasta for example. And God forbid you get some gravy on the potatoes, you bad bad mother. Particularly toddlers can get upset about his kind of thing. Don’t fuss about it, as long as they are eating, it really doesn’t matter.

Don’t offer alternatives. I am not talking about the old adage, that if you don’t give in, the child will eventually eat. That may work for mildly fussy kids, but for the true Fussy Fussy McFussy, it is not going to cut the mustard. Don’t give in and get the child a burger or fry some chips but do make sure there is something on the table that your child normally likes. And if he truly refuses everything, then he gets a yoghurt or a sandwich not a treat.

Saying that, I still offer dessert if the child has not eaten the main course. That may be seen as being inconsistent, but I cannot see how you could let a child watch the rest of the family eating ice cream and tell him that unless he eats his cold and congealing main course, that he cannot have it. Don’t use this as a threat or a reward.

Above all, try to remain calm even when inside your head you are screaming, “Just eat the bloody broccoli so that I don’t have to worry you will get fecking rickets or scurvy”. Don’t turn meals into a battle field.

What are your tricks to get your kids to eat?

I am writing on this blog while my normal blog is down. If you like my posts, you can normally find me on www.saltandcaramel.com