Ask The Expert: How can I stop my children from being fussy eaters?

Include carrots in spag bol but avoid the carrot-and-stick approach

There's nothing more frustrating than watching a child depressingly pick at a meal you've slaved over. But kids are often fussy eaters. Even those who start off well can go through phases where they decide they don't like meat, vegetables or anything they haven't seen before.

Dr Frances Maratos, reader in emotion science, and Jayne Trovati, a PhD student researching this area, both at the University of Derby, reveal their top tips...

1. Ensure fresh fruit is on display at home to promote healthy snacking.

2. Don't let children snack before a main meal. If you give them a snack 30 minutes before dinner, for example, they'll be more likely to 'pick' or show less interest in the mealtime food.

3. Try to make mealtimes pleasant and get the family together (ideally around a table, if possible).

4. Try serving meals in courses. This doesn't need to be fancy, but could consist of cherry tomatoes, carrots, peppers and/or celery as a 'starter'. This encourages toddlers and children to eat a wider variety of vegetables.

5. Always try to include fruit and vegetables in main meals, such as carrots in spaghetti Bolognese, or sliced fruit with a small amount of custard for dessert.

6. Don't use plates that separate different foods. This encourages the idea of 'contamination'. Instead, ensure pasta dishes and recipes like chilli and rice are presented as mixed entities. If you do present food separately, you will need to slowly start to address this (little by little).

7. If your toddler or child dislikes a food, try to ensure that a very small amount is included on their plate, but do not force them to eat it. Simply getting them used to the expectation of the food being on their plate is a start.

8. Do not worry if your child still refuses to eat a particular food. Repeated exposure (without pressure to eat the food) is key. Most children tend to grow out of fussy eating. What's essential is providing a safe, pleasant mealtime experience.

9. Read stories about fruits and vegetables with your child, to get them familiar with these foods in a safe, relaxed environment.

10. Don't use pressure to encourage eating, as this creates anxiety which can exacerbate fussy eating.

11. Last, but not least, use modelling behaviour and positive reinforcement to demonstrate eating expectations. Be consistent too – ie don't expect your child to eat something you will not.

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