Looking back I was horribly guilty of this at times - oops! But I always reckon you don't know what you don't know and so beating yourself up about it is not helpful!
When we feed our child - especially little ones - we sit opposite them and stare at them as they eat. We watch every bite and wait with baited breath to see them eat.
Our eyes follow every spoonful and we concentrate on their every move.
Let's change this around and think how this would feel if it was us. I cannot imagine feeling comfortable eating if my mother was sitting close by and staring as I chewed :)
Being there - tick
Engaging with our child - tick
A bettter option is for us to share some food with them as they eat. Modelling eating rather than just cheerleading will support better long-term results especially for fussy or picky eaters.
No we don't have to eat pureed pea-mush. But actually eating some real peas while they are enjoying their mush is great for showing next steps and giving them an interest in how we eat.
Are you inadvertently helicoptering?
I often feel like I am prevented from doing what I'd like to due to a lack of time/energy/money/knowledge. I have a big list of things that I'd like to achieve and seem to get stopped before I start.
This was a huge part of the reason I put together the guide - Creating Confident Eaters. Although I LOVE working indivdually with families of picky eaters, I realised that to be able to support more parents I would need to have more resources.
Writing the guide was the first step towards reaching more families, easily and effectively. Creating Confident Eaters was written with the time poor, stressed parent in mind and so is presented very simply, while still putting across messages that are powerful.
It lays out practical strategies that any parent can tackle. Giving step-by-step suggestions that are simple but often a little left of centre so not on the regular radar.
Woven throughout the guide are recommendations - based on my experience working with 100+ families per year - that really work to support children to gently extend the variety of foods they are comfortable eating.
This guide is totally different to anything that is on the market. It ticks the boxes that parents often struggle to check. It could be the solution to so many of your mealtime stresses and frustrations.
For your own copy: https://theconfidenteater.ecwid.com/
A picky eater by definition does not want to eat a range of foods. They have a selection of favourites and want to stay with those!
As a parent, our biggest hurdle is usually around adding a new food. How do we get them to try, never mind like a new food?
One strategy that can help is to use a favourite food to help us move a little step forwards.
For example, if we have a child that loves chocolate, can we dip a food that isn't scary but isn't accepted into some chocolate sauce (you can make a simple version with cocoa powder, milk or water and sweetener). Or just melt a little chocolate (which in itself may be a step for some children).
My advice is always to take the smallest manageable step. If we have a child that likes peanut butter, this may be dipping some peanut butter into the choc sauce first. If that works can we try a tiny piece of peanut?
It's always best to look for a win if we can so think small, think easy, think what may be something our child enjoys?
When it comes to eating I have a very clear philosophy.
As parents one of our principle roles is to make sure that there are multiple opportunities for our child to take a step forward. To try a new food, to eat something different to usual or to ask for a new choice.
This can be done on a few levels:
1. Having new foods in plain sight on a consistent basis. Our child (any child, never mind picky eaters) are less likely to eat something they haven't seen frequently and built a basic comfort level with.
2. Getting new foods onto the plate. If it's not on the plate it can't get eaten!
We would never of course force something onto the plate if it causes distress. There are some gentle strategies that we can use to get foods onto the plate which we'll look at in another blog.
3. Believing our child is able to eat something new. Our approach is critical. If we don't believe our child can eat something, how can they?
4. Not inadvertently stopping progress. There are many things we can say or do that prevent our child from moving forwards. For example, "don't bother giving her olives as she will never eat them". That is a self-fulfilling prophesy :)
5. Only providing favourites. If our child only sees their favourite foods they will struggle to eat anything new. There is also the risk that those favourites become boring or they have a bad experience with them and so drop the food.
If you do have a child with a very limited diet there are still ways to manage this.
If we can be aware of our actions and how they affect our fussy eaters we are better placed to provide those opportunities that over time create the "luck" we are looking for.
In fact, I have dozens and dozens of stories that support this
Having our child feel confident around food, especially new food, is a dream for many parents. I know first-hand how much easier it makes everything from dinners to travel to social occasions to have children who embrace the unknown.
I speak to many parents whose wishes are really, really small. They would like their picky child to have 4 evening meals that they will eat comfortably or that they could happily eat 3 vegetables.
Although these seem like really small goals they may also not be the first step for our child. Meeting them where they are at rather than where we want them to be often yields better results.
If our child loves beige carbs then our first step may be another beige carb. If they are comfortable with a few fruits then perhaps it’s a slightly different fruit. Building the confidence that our child is able to eat something new, over time gives them the ability to eat more variety.
When I work with parents the end goal is usually family dinners and vegetables. But, this is rarely where we start. I use a swimming analogy. If our child is really scared of the water, although we may want them to be able to swim a length comfortably, we don’t start by putting them in the deep end and expecting them to get to the end of the pool.
Small, sometimes infinitesimally small steps are the best start - especially if we have a really hesitant eater.
Our new book, Creating Confident Eaters, shows parents how to do this. Even for the most anxious of fussy children there are strategies that are supportive.
Many of the children who find food challenging are anxious in other areas of their lives.
Finding new things difficult, not liking change and being uncomfortable if routines are altered all go hand in hand with picky eating.
Often children seem to channel their anxieties into food. This is logical when we consider a few factors:
1. When children are young the only things that are totally within their control are eating, sleeping and toileting.
2. Eating is actually a very challenging process. It engages all the senses and we're putting stuff into a very vulnerable place.
3. If things are hard why not choose only the easy parts. Knowing we like crackers makes them a comfortable choice. Other foods are not known and less comforting. Better to say no.
If our child does have anxiety, finding strategies that give them the tools to better manage it can in turn lead to better eating. Conversely, supporting our child to add new foods can also help with their anxiety in other areas.
Creating Confident Eaters works through strategies that support adding variety in a way that even anxious picky eaters can manage.
Often we have pictures in our head around how much our child should be eating. We desperately want them to finish the sandwich or the yoghurt or just have 3 more sips of the milk.
A good question to ask: “is the extra bite/sip” for them or for us?
We may believe that our child will not be full enough if they don’t finish something off - and we could be right. Conversely are we:
- putting ourselves into the middle of something we shouldn’t and setting up a feeding dynamic that includes us?
- are we inadvertently creating a picky eating power struggle?
- could we be overriding natural satiety cues?
- are we pushing our child to eat for reasons that are logical but not necessarily helpful?
I know it’s tempting to give those prompts to get the extra spoonfuls in, especially at dinner, but does that cajoling support better eating long-term?
I have a series of questions that I love parents of fussy eaters to ask themselves when they are not sure how to proceed in a certain situation. One of them is “is this for them or is it for me?”
If an additional 2 mouthfuls of dinner takes 30 minutes, a dance and daddy spoon feeding - then I would say this is not for the child
A mum sent me an e-mail asking if the guide would be suitable for a pre-teen or was it more for toddlers. I thought it was a great question and probably something that other's were thinking.
The guide is definitely not aimed purely at younger children. I primarily work with 2 - 12's although do some work with teens too. The guide has strategies that are as relevant for the 8-12's as they are for the 2-6's and a lot of the suggestions can be modified to fit any age group.
The principal premise is we must show change in order to over time add new, and that change is usually not as challenging as we assume.
The guide then goes through multiple examples of how we can approach meals and snacks differently to make those changes in a way that is acceptable to our own child. If you have a child that has sensory issues, anxiety or other sensitivities then there are still many ways you can support progress.
The guide was written based on my experience working with 100's of families - many of whom have extremely selective eaters (and often additional challenges like anxiety, sensory sensitivity, ASD, ADHD etc.). The strategies have worked for them so I am sure can work for you too.
It also contains many of the things I would say to parents to which they respond "wow, I would never have thought of that". That is what makes this guide unique and totally different to anything else on the market.
If you have any other questions please let me know as I would love to answer them.
We are all so excited that Creating Confident Eaters is finally here and will be on the shelves in 1-2 weeks.
The limited edition first print run will not last so please let us know urgently if you would like to reserve one.
To celebrate receiving the draft copy of Creating Confident Eaters (it goes to print tomorrow with the finished copy arriving in 1-2 weeks) we met up for brunch this morning.
Vibeke, is the local artist behind all the the cartoon images. There are almost 300 throughout the guide. She has believed in the project from the start and understands just how challenging it can be to get your meals eaten! She has a 4 year old daughter, works part-time and also makes the most amazing cakes on the side. Multi-talented!
Karen, took all the images and gave them the full model make-over. Shadows, shading etc. and created something extraordinary. When we were unable to get the guide ready for print via an outside company (our demands were too unique and outside of the box) Karen stepped in and took over doing it all in-house. It has been 3 weeks of morning 'til night and weekends to get it all finished.
Karen also understands first hand how challenging food can be for some children and has brought a wealth of knowledge to the partnership. She knew the guide would be something special right from the start. Mother to 2 boys and running a substantial business herself, this has been a huge additional commitment for her too.
We are all so excited that Creating Confident Eaters is finally here and will be on the shelves in 1-2 weeks. The limited edition first print run will not last so please let us know urgently if you would like to reserve one.
Yesterday the first proof arrived of my guide Creating Confident Eaters.
It was written with busy parents in mind and answers many of the questions I get asked on a daily basis. How to gently get a child fixated on toast to have a new breakfast. What to do if our kids only accept crackers for snacks.
After speaking to 100's of parents a year I have written a left-of-centre book that is unlike anything else available in print. It sets out to empower parents to take steps to resolve eating issues themselves.
Parents are almost always the best placed to solve eating issues, once given the tools. I feel that this is a crucial tool in that learning. It is as valuable for a mum seeing the toddler fussies emerge as it is for a parent struggling with a very selective eater.
Limited numbers available so please let me know if you would like to reserve a copy (delivery 1-2 weeks)
Judith is passionate about good food and is even more passionate about enabling other people to enjoy the wide variety of fresh food available today.