Food psychology can help your children

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Practical Considerations

Familiarity and Structure
Establishing a mantra of same time, same place for meals and snacks can help to make your child feel relaxed and comfortable. Offer your child the same food the rest of the family is eating. Avoid preparing separate meals, as they may perceive this as special treatment, potentially exacerbating fussy eating. Also avoid giving drinks or snacks one hour before meals. This will help ensure your child has a good appetite for their meal.

food psychologyDo not assume food refusal means food dislike
Children frequently reject a new food on the first encounter. This usually does not mean they do not like it, but it is rather indicative that they have not experienced it before and may not be used to the taste, texture and smell. Offer one new food at a time. Overwhelming children with many new foods too quickly may prove to be unsuccessful. Allow time for each food to become familiar before moving on to something new.

Offering a new food with already familiar and enjoyed foods can facilitate food acceptance. Be innovative: rather than presenting individual disliked ingredients, combine them with other familiar/liked foods, such as minestrone soup, stewed vegetables, casseroles, stews and even desserts – go crazy, how about experimenting with beetroot cupcakes!

Persevere: do not give up after the first attempt
It may take 15-25 attempts before a new food is accepted. Offer a small amount often and your child should eventually get used to the flavour and texture.

Make new foods fun and easy to eat
Young children are attracted to different colours and shapes. They also love to play with their food, which plays an important role in food acceptance. Finger foods are a good choice. Try different colours and shapes to maximise appeal and attractiveness. Cut vegetables into bright coloured sticks served on a platter with a dipping sauce as a snack or mini-meal, or cut vegetables into interesting shapes.

Establishing a happy and fun mealtime atmosphere
Try not to stress about the mess and be supportive of self-feeding. Freedom increases their sense of control and may help children to eat more. Try to be positive and stay calm to help your children gain a more positive and healthy relationship with food. Nagging and punishment will result in unnecessary stress and may affect your child’s appetite. Praise good behaviour and give plenty of encouragement. Try to praise one aspect at each meal, such as ‘good chewing’ or ‘you’re eating your vegetables really well’.

It is common for children to go through phases of fussy eating. It marks a child’s rite of passage to gradual independence and is an effective method to upset and control parents. While this can prove to be a vexing period for parents, children are usually very resilient and it is unlikely to lead to long-term growth or nutritional problems