Having a fussy eater can be exhausting. Kids put up a fight and refuse every food you offer at home but are hungry fuss-free and not-at-all fussy eating angels devouring all the food served up at childcare? How does that even happen?!
We’ve all done it. Dropped our kids off at childcare or the babysitters and warned “they might not eat much, they’re SUPER picky”. We’ve given every excuse under the sun for what is sure to end up in an all-familiar lunchtime battle over food. I mean, you experience it EVERY DAY with your (slightly frightening and hangry) fussy eating little darling.
To your surprise at pick up, they hand you your child’s bag and report that your child ate lunch beautifully and without a fight. Say what?!
Eating at childcare versus eating at home
Help for those dealing with fussy eaters is at hand thanks to fussy eating extraordinaire, Jennifer Anderson of Kids Eat In Colour.
Jennifer has some excellent advice on the differences between eating at childcare and eating at home, so prepare for a light bulb moment.
“If your child is eating really well at daycare you can learn more about what is happening there. Is it the food, the structure, the friends? You might be able to do some of that at home too.”
Jennifer also goes on to say that tiredness could be at the root of a mealtime meltdown. That’s right – it’s not your cooking, they’re just not up for eating it.
“Lowering your own expectations of dinner can be a great idea in that case”.
Got it. I will forget about your goals of three cups of veggies and fish and go low with the expectations. And then a bit lower. A handful of peas and fish fingers kind of low.
Not all childcare centres are exactly the same, but they’re reasonably similar. Take a look at these mealtime comparisons to see why fussy eating kids might respond as they do to their food!
Things That Often Happen At Childcare
- Childcare is very routine-based and they serve meals in that routine.
- Childcare doesn’t provide any alternatives to what is served.
- They have a consistent eating place with few distractions.
- All children eat at the same time.
- Childcare may serve more kid-friendly foods.
Things That Often Happen At Home
- We get overtired kids who ate well at childcare and aren’t hungry.
- We become short-order cooks and cook to their demands.
- We’re sometimes not consistent with where we eat. The table one night, the couch the next night, at the coffee table etc.
- There are possibly lots more distractions at home. TV is on, siblings up and down off seats, toys at the table for instance.
- We try to feed kids difficult flavours and textures that they might not be ready for.
So what to do? Don’t give up! Jennifer has some brilliant fussy eating tips to try at home.
6 Tips for less dinner stress
1. Lower your expectations … dramatically
We all wish our kids would eat a plate full of whatever it is that we’ve cooked. But with fussy eating at play, we have to pick our battles. If kids eat half, excellent. If they try everything on their plate, that’s a win!
2. Minimise distractions
Everyone comes to the table prepared to sit and eat. No TV, no screens or countless toys at the table. The less that is going on, the better!
3. Serve plenty of veggies and protein foods for breakfast, lunch and snacks
Kids will often eat more at earlier times in the day, so make those mealtimes and snacks count by giving them nutritious foods when you’ll know they have the best chance of being eaten. Sneaky!
4. Eat with your child whenever possible
Company is everything when eating. Eating as a family is a fun and comforting experience. It also encourages children to sit at the table longer, giving them more time to eat.
5. Provide one meal option with at least one food they’re comfortable with
The safety net on the plate. Guaranteed, kids will always eat what they’re comfortable with but they might just branch out onto other areas of the plate to try. Having a familiar favourite on their plate also makes trying new foods less daunting.
6. Model eating the foods you want your child to eat
Monkey see and monkey do! Don’t expect your child to eat something that you’re not willing to eat yourself! YUMMY BEANS!
This isn’t just for toddlers. Older kids at school can be very similar with most food being eaten at the beginning of the day and then dwindling off towards the evening. Try these tips on them too!
What do you think? Were there a few golden nuggets in there for you on why your fussy-eating child might not eat? Don’t fret Mumma, you’re not alone!