Sophie Pickles

Early Years Child Development Specialist

As a qualified teacher, mum, parenting coach and all-round Early Years expert, Sophie has a wealth of practical, real life experience to share with parents.

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Dr. Stephanie Ooi

General Practitioner

As a mum of two and a registered GP, Stephanie has seen more than her fair share of little ones! She has lots of practical tips and professional know-how on hand to help parents.

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Laura Matthews

Nutritionist

Laura is our nutrition whizz – bringing her expert advice and experience from working with chefs, schools and nurseries to the Kiddylicious expert panel.

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Distractions

Laura:

In relation to fussy eating, try to avoid distractions. It can be easy to fall into the trap of just wanting your child to eat, and thinking that turning the TV on will help. But you really want them to focus on the food that’s on their plate so they can learn about what they’re eating, the taste, they can appreciate the flavour and the texture rather than being partly distracted by what’s on the TV.

Think about the experience that you would have in a restaurant. I’ve seen schools where they have music playing in the background and have fake flowers on the tables, trying to recreate that kind of restaurant vibe. Music can be a brilliant backdrop for food, but try to avoid TV or toys on the table, so they can focus on the food.

Sophie:

Another thing to bear in mind is how your children are sitting, as that can cause fussy mealtimes – are they comfortable and supported? Some highchairs don’t have a ledge for the feet and when their legs are dangling, they get distracted. You can also progress from a highchair to sitting up in a regular chair at the table with a booster seat. That can be used along with proper child-sized metal cutlery, using proper ceramic plates and glasses, not plastic glasses. They can all make a child feel so much more grown up, which can then help them to get more involved with the mealtime.

Relieving the pressure

Stephanie:

I do think about the ‘fussy eater’ label, though. I would probably put my eldest into the ‘fussy eater’ category but with her, I think labelling can make it worse sometimes. Perhaps instead we should say that their appetite changes and what they liked before, they might not like now. I also think you shouldn’t say it in front of them, because they can play it up.

Sophie:

We want to treat our children with respect and we should also understand that we need to set their boundaries and expectations. If they know that they can manipulate your behaviour to suit their own needs, they will walk all over you.

Stephanie:

I do think about the ‘fussy eater’ label, though. I would probably put my eldest into the ‘fussy eater’ category but with her, I think labelling can make it worse sometimes. Perhaps instead we should say that their appetite changes and what they liked before, they might not like now. I also think you shouldn’t say it in front of them, because they can play it up.

Sophie:

We want to treat our children with respect and we should also understand that we need to set their boundaries and expectations. If they know that they can manipulate your behaviour to suit their own needs, they will walk all over you.

Laura:

Exactly, I wanted to talk about mealtime language. I think that as parents we should remove the pressure. Really try to stop saying things like “clear your plate and then you can have pudding.” Just remove that pressure and stop guilt-tripping children into eating.

Sophie:

When you’re having meals with children who are older and more vocal, you have problems around what they do and don’t want to try and that can be really stressful as a parent. You feel you have to get them to eat something! You also want them to eat a certain amount of vegetables. If they’re not, it can be really guilt-inducing, yet sometimes, just changing the language that you use makes it so much more enjoyable. Something that we’ve started doing was that if we were including a pudding, we put it all on the table at once so it’s not ‘special’. I feel that putting anything on a pedestal can be a minefield. People often say to me, and “oh, but they’ll just eat the pudding, and then they won’t eat anything else.” But that hasn’t turned out to be the case at all.

Laura:

You should try to override the feeling of just wanting your child to eat and it can be so beneficial in the long term to remove that pressure. Just last night, my son asked what was for dinner and I said, chicken pie. He said: “yuck,” but I just I didn’t react to it. I said to my husband I’ve done my job, I’m putting food on the table, with a selection of vegetables. He ended up eating most of it anyway. I hope we can try to help other parents on that journey and help them feel confident.

Sophie:

If my child said: “yuck, I don’t want to eat this,” then I try to say: “that’s okay, you don’t have to eat it if you don’t want to, there is nothing else,” then I’ll say: “tell me about what you did at nursery today? Who did you play with?” Just completely change the subject or we’ll sing a song or do something that’s different. As Laura said, it’s about not falling into that trap of offering something else. Even if it’s a healthy alternative, you don’t want to fall into that trap.

Reframing foods

Stephanie:

Something I recommend is having discussions about food at other times of the day, even in a story. My eldest never really took to porridge but she was given a book of fairy tales and one of them was about the magic porridge pot; she was fascinated by it. One day she said: “can we have porridge tomorrow?” I was delighted. It shows that reframing food in different ways, incorporating it into play and stories can be helpful to reinforce positive mealtimes.

Sophie:

That’s a good point, books can really help with things that children are going through. There’s a children’s book for everything, isn’t there? So if you are having trouble with food, reading stories is great because if they see their favourite character do something, then they become interested and empowered to do it themselves.

Laura:

Yes, it’s not just their parents telling them to do something. One of the phrases quite a commonly used is: “you ate it before and you loved it.” That already implies pressure. So being quite casual in your delivery and saying: “try it, if you want to, it’s up to you,” gives them that freedom.  Try to remember that as adults, we have different preferences on a daily basis and that’s the same for our children. Removing the pressure is the best thing you can do.

Taking out the element of surprise

Stephanie:

With older kids you can also start talking about it earlier in the day. So instead of suddenly saying, this is dinner, prepare them by talking about what you’re going to cook in a fun way. Perhaps you might say: “we’re going to go to the supermarket. Do you want to help me choose something?” Get them involved from very early days so they can understand where food comes from and how it gets on their plate.

Sophie:

And also how the nutrition and the vitamins in food helps with different parts of our bodies and helps them to grow in different ways. I think that’s really interesting for them.

Stephanie:

Just last week, my daughter’s nursery had been teaching about things that are healthy. My daughter got it a little wrong, she said to me, “I would like some marshmallows, because marshmallows are healthy.” I said, actually apples are healthy. Normally, she asks me to peel them but I said, “you know, the skin is actually really healthy too.” And you can see the light bulb switch on. She actually ate the peel that day and it’s just fantastic when they’ve got a little bit more understanding.

Sophie:

They also need to get used to eating foods in their original form. We talk about weaning being fun; I think naming foods in a fun way can work quite well. Of course, it’s important that your child knows the real name of the food but you can come up with fun names together, such as broccoli is dinosaur trees and sweetcorn is goldfish. It can often encourage them to have a go at trying things that they wouldn’t ordinarily try because while they don’t want broccoli, they might want to eat a dinosaur tree!

Laura:

What’s really important to help with fussy eating is encouraging playing food games, letting them help with shopping and food preparation, getting them to roll out some pizza dough or pick herbs, grate some cheese, (for older children). You can also use flash cards to expose them to food in different ways away from the dinner table. You’re removing the pressure to eat but you’re making it a happy experience.

Stephanie:

That’s when toys can come in handy. A lot of kids will have play food, so  you can use that as another way to teach them.

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