Q&A about children's eating habits with Lucy Thomas

We ran a Q&A with Organix and feeding expert Lucy Thomas about children's eating habits and how to help fussy eaters. She answered your questions on weaning, unusual eating habits and how to encourage your children to explore different foods. 

As founder and author of 'Mange Tout', Lucy's methods have been recommended by doctors, nutritionists and Great Ormond Street hospital. Inspiring fussy eaters to enjoy fruit and vegetables is her passion and she is a spokesperson for the Taste For Life campaign, brought to you by Organix. 

 

Weaning

Q. ThemisA: If you were advising a new mother what would be your favourite first weaning foods? Some babies find lumps in food a strange sensation and are slow to like them - have you any suggestions on how to gently help them adjust?

A. Lucy Thomas: As a mother myself and currently going through the weaning process, my favourite weaning foods, which have also been successful with clients' children too, tend to be sweeter vegetables such as squash, sweet potato and parsnip. These are all fairly easy to digest and are gentle on the tummy. Babies have a natural preference for sweet following breast milk (and even formula is sweet too) and due to the natural sugars in these vegetables most babies take to them readily.

With regards to the lumps, from six months I would suggest handing your baby a chip-sized piece of the roasted vegetables I have listed to encourage them to self-feed the same food they are eating pureed. Your baby will be able to squash the food in their hand and it will naturally gravitate to their mouth for them to explore it. Soft pieces will come off in their mouth that they will be able to manage. Expect them to gag as this is a natural reflex to help them work out how to manage the new sensation. This way babies can get used to lumps, bits and texture early on and be able to cope with the sensation and learn how to self-feed and chew. Remember never leave a baby unattended when feeding.

Keeping food smooth for too long makes the transition to lumps trickier, so also begin mashing food with a fork by seven months. If you find this approach too daunting then adding pureed peas or pureed cooked red lentils to the food will add a coarser texture that is a more gentle approach to lumps.

Q. hails8419: How do you begin weaning fruit and vegetables - singularly or combined, smooth, lumpy or whole? How often do you re-introduce a food that isn't initially enjoyed?

A. Lucy Thomas: There are two approaches to weaning your baby, one is the traditional method at six months of introducing a smooth puree and starting with pear and sweet vegetables such as carrot, squash, swede and sweet potato that are all easy to digest. You need to offer each food individually on their own and across two to three days to ensure that your baby does not have a reaction to them. Once you have done this and they are tolerating them, you can begin to combine them together. Always offer a new food in isolation and never two new foods together so that you can keep an eye on any reactions. Then by seven months you can begin to introduce lumps to the foods by mashing with a fork rather than using a hand blender and offering finger foods such as chip-sized pieces of cooked carrot and sweet potato.

Another approach is baby-led weaning and involves allowing your baby to feed themselves so that they learn to chew straight away rather than just swallow a smooth puree, this approach also advocates that your baby feeds themselves.

How to wean is a personal choice and it depends on your baby's personality, some babies refuse to be spoon fed and are fiercely independent and fare much better on baby-led weaning where they have the control.

Babies naturally have a preference for sweet, however they have yet to really form any dislikes so I would advise that if your baby is turning their head away they might be full or tired and if they grimace with a new food it's not because they don't like it, it's just a new experience. If something is consistently refused then wait a week and try again.

"How to wean is a personal choice and it depends on your baby's personality, some babies refuse to be spoon fed and are fiercely independent and fare much better on baby-led weaning where they have the control."

Weaning is a time of discovery and for babies is yet another interesting and exciting activity in their day for them to experience. Experiment and see what works for you and your baby. Never leave your baby or child unattended with finger food or when feeding.

Q. ikkle87: What are the best ways to introduce meats to toddlers? My son is 15 months old and will tolerate mince and chicken if it's in tiny pieces mixed in something like mashed potato, but otherwise he refuses.

What's your best tip for when children refuse food - should you offer an alternative or wait in the hope that they will eat when hungry?

A. Lucy Thomas: Meat can be a tricky texture to conquer and it's usually why some children have a preference for processed breaded meats and fish because the protein has already been mashed and processed and therefore makes it an easier texture to chew and manage. If you feel your son refuses meat due to the texture then you could make your own finger foods to store in the freezer using chicken breast. Put a chicken breast through the food processor, add some breadcrumbs and some grated carrot, onion and apple to add some moisture and shape into finger sized pieces and bake or shallow fry.

Kebab sticks are too sharp and dangerous to use but craft shops often sell lolly sticks that are much shorter and have rounded ends, if your son enjoys peanut butter you could make a satay sauce and coat some chicken breast in it before cooking, he might find it more interesting to eat the chicken off a lolly stick (but do not leave him unattended with it).

I believe it's always important to make sure that you prepare a child for what is going to be served at a meal so that they are not refusing it because it is has come as a surprise or in case they were expecting something else. Always sit with your child and have a small amount of whatever they are eating on your plate, you don't have to sit down and eat an entire meal and spoil your own appetite but modelling for your child at mealtimes goes a long way in supporting them and encouraging them to eat. As a parent there is no right or wrong way to approach anything, simply a way that works for you and your child. So if you decide to not offer anything else until the next meal, make sure you are consistent in your approach and don't move the goalposts as this only sends the wrong messages to your child and confuses them.

Q. Fillybuster: How do you recommend dealing with babies and toddlers rejecting new foods and textures? Do you keep on trying (as some of the weaning specialists suggest) or give up and move onto something else?

Also, what is your approach when a child rejects a meal? Do you believe in offering an alternative, or still giving dessert?

A. Lucy Thomas: At the start of weaning babies very rarely have likes or dislikes for tastes and flavours, they may find the food texture or flavour a new or strange experience and pull a face or grimace but it will not be because they do not like something, it will be them adjusting to the new experience. If you ever watch a toddler suck a lemon, they will wince and shudder then often go back and have another go!

There is a window of opportunity between six to nine months where babies are most receptive to new flavours and during this time it's best to help them sample as many as possible and not keep their food bland for too long as this can provoke shocked responses and rejection later on.

Once a baby gets more mobile and learns to crawl or walk often this coincides with the rejection of many foods that were once enjoyed, and can become a parent's main frustration. It's often to do with a natural inbuilt mechanism that prevents self-poisoning, so that the now mobile baby/toddler does not go off and pick/eat wild toxic berries or such things that could cause harm.

There is also a period between one to two years where our children's taste buds change and fluctuate dramatically, such that once enjoyed foods now taste different and can be rejected.

"There is a window of opportunity between six to nine months where babies are most receptive to new flavours and during this time it's best to help them sample as many as possible and not keep their food bland for too long as this can provoke shocked responses and rejection later on."

Yes it can take up to 15 times of offering a new food before a child might sample or accept it as many specialists suggest, but it's also important that it's a food your child has seen you eating regularly – this then reassures them it's safe and good to eat.

If you are feeling like you're getting nowhere, then yes move onto something else and come back to it a week or two later, or have some on a plate in the middle of the table, young children are often interested in what's out of reach!

Depending on how old your child is it's sometimes a good idea to offer a choice of two options before the mealtime (peas or carrots with pasta?) so they have been involved in the decision of what is being served (to prevent unexpected surprises on their plates) but also to prevent you offering them a whole host of options once the meal is served as this then teaches them that they will always be offered something else.

Dessert after rejection of a meal is often asked about and it's really an individual decision to make as a parent. Forcing a child to eat a meal with threats of no dessert is not perhaps the best approach, denying your child calories if they have not eaten anything is worrying too.

Maybe have fun together making a visual menu on paper plates of the week's meals and stick them on the wall, ask your child to choose one each day and tell you what is on the plate (you can use food packaging labels, yoghurt lids, drawings) and make sure your child understands that is what will be for lunch/dinner. Decide on a rule for when they reject or refuse something, maybe based on your child's age eg three bites of each food because you are three or if it's a new food perhaps three licks of it.

If you decide to still include a pudding make sure it's given unconditionally and never with any comments related to what was or was not eaten.

In summary, prepare your child for what's to come on their plate. Get involved and set an example by modelling for your child eating the same food too and don't move the goalposts.

 

Fussy eaters

Q. kerryv: Do you have any ideas for kids who say "I don't like that!" before they have even tried it. My cooking really isn't that bad.

A. Lucy Thomas: What a familiar phrase! And yes I am sure your cooking is delicious.

Having spent the last 10 years working with children who, on seeing me unpack my bag of goodies immediately respond with the well-rehearsed phrase of "I don't like that" I always respond with "That's okay because we're only going to explore it!"

It's definitely worth involving your children in the preparation process of a new meal and let them see the ingredients and explore them together. Often children respond with that well coined phrase when they are nervous or worried about something they have not eaten before. So preparation is definitely the key and so they don't end up with something unexpected on their plate, and you don't feel frustrated that they have snubbed your efforts before they have even tried it. If involving them is too tricky or time consuming then use the exploring phrase at the mealtime.

"Having spent the last 10 years working with children who, on seeing me unpack my bag of goodies immediately respond with the well-rehearsed phrase of "I don't like that" I always respond with "That's okay because we're only going to explore it!""

For example, let's pretend you made satay chicken and noodles with toasted sesame green beans. You could say to them in response "Okay it's just because you haven't seen it before so let's explore it together"

Start with smelling the food (have some on your plate and sit with them) ask them to smell the sauce and guess what's in it? Can they dip their baby finger in it and paint a small tiny spot on their tongue? If they brush their teeth with the green beans can they feel the sesame seeds on their tongue? Explore the noodles and lick them – are they soft or hard? Sweet or salty? If you do a tiny nibble on one is it just like the spaghetti they had yesterday?

Using phrases such as "It's like…" helps children to relax about something new they are tasting and relating it to something they already like helps to make it familiar.

Q. AngelDog: How common do you think it is for children to be fussy eaters due to underlying medical/biochemical problems?

Both my boys have been fruit/vegetable refusers and have reacted to lots of different foods but not ones they're allergic to, though my eldest has lots of food allergies. It appears to be caused by underlying biochemical problems ie nutritional deficiencies and addressing those deficiencies has got them eating vegetables again without the reactions they previously had.

A. Lucy Thomas: 'Biochemical problems' is very broad, but if you're talking about micronutrient deficiencies, something like iron deficiency can certainly be linked to poor appetite in children - however I wouldn't necessarily say this would be linked to specific foods.

I see a feeding problem as a mixture of physical, psychological and social, with some also having an underlying medical aspect to them too and it is very hard sometimes to see which predominates, and how to pick it apart. Therefore statistically the number of feeding problems in children cannot be clearly divided into causes.

I am glad the problems your sons have experienced have been sorted out, presumably by a dietitian or someone who has diagnosed nutritional deficiencies.

Q. jollytummywobbles: My eldest will eat anything and everything at school, but is really fussy at home. How can we overcome that?

A. Lucy Thomas: Children have a real knack for driving us crazy with what they will happily accept and eat away from our watchful eye! If there is a menu at school for the meals that are served and clearly eaten, perhaps you could do the same at home. Sit down together and discuss the meals that you prepare and cook, include your child in the decision of what to have on which day and be flexible with their likes and dislikes, perhaps allow them to choose the accompaniments – for example corn on the cob, peas, roasted sweet potato etc or whether it's rice, pasta or potato.

If they are old enough and interested they can draw the meal or write out the menu by hand or on the computer. Each day before they leave for school ask them to check the menu and tell you what's on it for dinner. When they come home if need be remind them to check the menu so they know what's for dinner and if there is any fuss, remind them that they helped to write the menu. If you feel this is too restrictive then allow one swap a week (swapping the menu days over) and make sure your child understands this rule too.

Q. grannybiker: Any ideas for encouraging a seven year old to try new foods? When he was little many foods gave him a really painful tummy, so we think most of his current reluctance is psychological. What he will eat is so limited and any new foods he has decided he likes after all seem to be junk or sweet.

A. Lucy Thomas: Illness and allergies can cause havoc on a child's association with food and also an element of trust in food can be lost because children then become fearful that certain foods might make them ill or trigger a negative or allergic reaction which they have no control over.

Use the same approach I have suggested for adoptmama and work through a senses chart with him using new foods that he finds challenging.

Q. sydroo: How do you deal with a child who will not eat food that accidentally touches each other on a plate (even non-wet items such as mashed potato and peas)? Put the food items on separate plates? Buy a camping tray? What would your advice be?

A. Lucy Thomas: This is something I come across quite frequently with clients and the answer is not always easy because it largely depends on where the problem has stemmed from. You do not say how old your child is but "neo phobia" or fear of something new or unknown is something that all of us experience in childhood and it's a natural part of a child's development. It tends to start at around 18 months and can last a few weeks/months or sometimes up to the age of five and very rarely into adulthood. It manifests itself in a variety of scenarios and many usually involve food at some point.

For example a child not wanting to eat a biscuit that's broken is a common theme, even though it's one they like, to them the biscuit is not just broken, there is something wrong with it and therefore not safe to eat. The same goes for other foods that might be slightly burnt or presented in a different way.

I expect this is what your child is going through; many children prefer their food separately on their plate so they can see what they are eating. There are some plates on the market that have divisions like an airplane meal tray which you could use. Alternatively, if you want to try and help your child overcome this habit then the best time to do this is when it's not a mealtime, and without any need or pressure to eat anything.

Take time out to do some cooking or food play that involves mixing things together and allowing foods to touch each other that would usually be separate and talk your child through the activity and reassure them that it's okay. Maybe have some fun using mashed potato on a tray and use the peas to make patterns or a face in it – reassure your child that it's just for fun and they don't have to eat it. You could tuck into it yourself though without comment to show them that it's safe to eat.

"I would say the best thing to do is to agree with your child that together you will explore a new food each week, decide on the weekend what that food might be, perhaps a new fruit or vegetable or maybe just a new pasta shape or baking a different biscuit or cake."

Q. cornishgirl54: If your child is a fussy eater and refuses a lot of food how do you find a balance between trying to get them to eat a wide range of foods and just sticking with whatever they will eat?

A. Lucy Thomas: Finding the balance is key and not just for your child but to help save your sanity too as it can be so frustrating to have a child who refuses so many new or different foods. I would say the best thing to do is to agree with your child that together you will explore a new food each week, decide on the weekend what that food might be, perhaps a new fruit or vegetable or maybe just a new pasta shape or baking a different biscuit or cake.

Flexibility is key too, so if you are finding it very trying offering completely new foods then try and make a simple adjustment to something they already eat. Instead of just cheese on toast, perhaps sprinkle some paprika or herbs on top to make it a little bit different, or explain that you are making noodles for dinner which is like spaghetti pasta. Even just begin by offering the same foods in a different shape as it might help your child transition to new and different foods gradually.

 

Eating fruit and vegetables

Q. StillNoFuckingEyeDeer: My almost three year old daughter loves fruit (bananas, apple, grapes, tomato, blueberries, mango) but wont eat vegetables apart from mushrooms, peas and sweetcorn. Does it really matter if she's eating five portions of fruit a day?

A. Lucy Thomas: Wow, a three year old who likes mushrooms – that's fantastic! It sounds like your daughter enjoys a wide variety of fruit and having three vegetables in her diet she enjoys eating is great, especially considering many parents I know would love it if their child ate one! Yes, you are right five a day is important and usually I would recommend three portions of vegetables and two of fruit, but if the balance is in favour of fruit then it is really not something to get too worried about. Perhaps make sure there is a serving of one of the preferred vegetables at lunch and dinner.

"Fruit is a fantastic healthy snack – if you are worried about the sugar levels naturally found in fruit you can always offer a slice of cheese or some nut butter on a cracker alongside the fruit as the protein helps to slow down the release of the sugar."

Fruit is a fantastic healthy snack – if you are worried about the sugar levels naturally found in fruit you can always offer a slice of cheese or some nut butter on a cracker alongside the fruit as the protein helps to slow down the release of the sugar.

Have you thought about introducing a food like avocado, that can be presented to your daughter as a fruit? Also remember that a serving of baked beans, hummous, tomato pasta sauce and some vegetable soups all count as a serving of vegetables too.

Q. helcrai: My eight year old will eat certain vegetables for a while then will suddenly decide she doesn't like them. How can I encourage her to keep eating them? She's too old now for the tricks I would use when she was younger like hiding veggies, making them into a face etc.

A. Lucy Thomas: Do you think it might be because your daughter gets bored of them? Could it be worth rotating them on a weekly basis? Perhaps ask your daughter why it is she doesn't like them anymore and talk to her about how you can maybe make them more interesting or palatable.

Green beans can get a bit boring after a while, so maybe once they are cooked wok fry them with some butter and garlic. Carrots can be a bit bland, maybe cooking them in orange juice would increase their appeal. Sweetcorn thrown in a quick pancake mix make great fritters as a side vegetable dish, or enlist her help to make a dressing for a simple salad putting her favourite salad foods into it and making a dressing with oil, lemon, honey and balsamic vinegar.

Adding some herbs or spice to cauliflower and grating cheese over it before grilling might increase its appeal. What about something like edammame beans in pods, they are highly nutritious and delicious dipped in some soya sauce or maybe a peanut dipping sauce for baby corn or toasted sesame seeds on broccoli? Ask your daughter to help come up with some dipping sauce favourites to add something new to a vegetable side dish for those times she needs a boost to tuck into the good stuff.

Q. TiggersAngel7774: My son has ASD and won't eat any fruit and the only vegetable he'll eat is sweetcorn. He has a very limited palette. He's very interested in fruit and will sometimes lick it but at six he's never eaten anything apart from a banana once as a toddler.

His limited food choices don't seem limited by colour or texture as I know can be case with many children with ASD. He loves peach or raspberry yoghurts as long as there are no bits and he loves smoothies so he is accustomed to the taste of fruit.

"Keep a record in a food diary of the new foods/fruits by drawing them and placing a star or sticker next to it once he manages to lick or brush his teeth with it. When he has managed to repeat one of the foods six times (because he is six) over the course of a week or two, offer a small reward that is not food related."

A. Lucy Thomas: It is great that you are encouraging your son to lick new fruits, do not worry too much at this stage about forcing him to eat anything new as this will come with time and confidence.

Relating other foods to ones that your son already eats might help too, for example sweet potato is very sweet "like" sweetcorn, you could roast some sweet potato chips and explore these by licking them first and then perhaps brushing your teeth and just making teeth marks in the food, explain to your son that you are just going to explore a new food and he does not have to eat it, this will take the pressure off and help him to be more open to the experience.

Keep a record in a food diary of the new foods/fruits by drawing them and placing a star or sticker next to it once he manages to lick or brush his teeth with it. When he has managed to repeat one of the foods six times (because he is six) over the course of a week or two, offer a small reward that is not food related. You could also use the approach I have given to adoptmama and see if your son responds well to the senses chart approach.

 

Other stuff

Q. BellaVida: I have never made my children clean their plates, but do encourage them to eat a reasonable amount if I suspect they are just trying to rush away from the table. They eat a very varied diet and are the right height and weight.

I always thought children were quite good at self-regulating and responding to what their bodies tell them, or is that not the case?

A. Lucy Thomas: Yes you are right, babies and children are extremely good at self-regulating and will even themselves out eventually through the day or over a week, it's just such a tricky concept to comprehend and trust when as a parent you might be stuck in a cycle of food being refused or rejected.

I always suggest that my clients look at their child's food intake over a week and not a day. 
Some children however will struggle to self-regulate after they have been ill as the appetite can get suppressed and getting it going again can be a slow process. Other children might struggle if there is an underlying health problem such as reflux which causes great discomfort and can cause negative associations with feeding. But it sounds like you have very healthy children who eat a balanced diet – and yes who are like most children - desperate to play rather than eat!

Q. Theimpossiblegirl: At what age would you start to introduce more flavour to children's food? I'm a lover of spice but don't know when to introduce a wider range of flavours in the hope my daughter will like the same food as me.

A. Lucy Thomas: Many children across the world enjoy very spicy foods from an early age, although you may prefer to start with milder flavours such as cinnamon, mild smoked paprika, garlic etc. Once a baby is happily accepting solids you can begin to experiment with herbs and spices, try and think aromatically not necessarily hot and spicy. It's a healthy way to add flavour to foods (especially as salt should not be added) and can turn an uninspiring dish into something a baby may really enjoy.

"Once a baby is happily accepting solids you can begin to experiment with herbs and spices, try and think aromatically not necessarily hot and spicy. It's a healthy way to add flavour to foods (especially as salt should not be added) and can turn an uninspiring dish into something a baby may really enjoy."

If your daughter is older I would suggest exploring spices together, perhaps starting simply by adding cinnamon to breakfast cereal or garlic to a pasta sauce or herbs to a homemade pizza, then perhaps experiment by adding a spice rub to chicken or fish before cooking. Making some muslin cloth parcels filled with various herbs and spices and tying them with an elastic band is a safe way for you and your child to smell and explore them without spilling or ending with them on your fingers and up your nose. Growing herbs is fun and easy too and might help your daughter to take an interest in them and a chance to talk about how to include them in your home cooking together.

Q. janekirk: What would you replace sugary foods with when your child has developed a very sweet tooth?

A. Lucy Thomas: If your child enjoys fruit or dried fruit I would always offer this as a simple healthy alternative, however if this is really not going to hit the spot then home baking is the way forward, where you can make something nutritious and sweet without needing to use unnecessary amounts of sugar.

One of my favourite treats is a homemade cookie using dried fruit, nuts and apple juice – using a food processor blend 200g mixed nuts to bread crumb texture, add 150g dates and raisins and process. Add five tablespoons of apple juice to create a dough, roll into balls, flatten and bake at 180C for 12 minutes, turning half way.

Sweet treats like homemade banana muffins or flapjacks can be made using less sugar or an alternative like honey or agave. I would not recommend using any artificial sweetners though.

As snacks, try offering oat or rice cakes topped with a nut butter or mashed banana and some honey or agave on top, this would then provide a good nutritious snack with hopefully enough sweetness to satisfy. Alternatively a small piece of wholegrain bread with some fruit spread or jam on (there are many on the market that only use fruit and grape juice to sweeten them).

Chips made from sweet potato, parsnip or squash contain natural sugars and have the added benefits of Vitamin C and D plus they contain magnesium which is essential for healthy blood, bone, heart, muscle, and nerve function.

Q. Tobdoc: If a child is overweight/obese how can I encourage a healthy but filling amount of food through the day without other children noticing, especially at lunchtime?

A. Lucy Thomas: Protein and wholegrains are a great way to fill a hungry tummy and will release energy slowly between meals. Processed refined carbohydrates like white bread, rice cakes and biscuits will offer a quick burst of energy but leave your child hungry and likely tired too. Wholegrain pasta or noodles with pesto and chicken will provide a good filling lunch with slow release carbohydrates and filling protein.

If you are sending the lunch to school there are some good thermos flasks on the market that keep food warm until lunchtime, so you could also offer baked beans and a side of wholegrain bread and some cheese or a spaghetti bolognaise. If your child would prefer sandwiches, then wholegrain bread with protein fillings like chicken and pesto or chicken and sundried tomato paste with or without salad depending on preference. Boiled eggs, satay chicken pieces or Spanish omelette are all good protein filled additions for lunches too.

Snacks like homemade banana muffins made with half white and brown flour or flapjacks made with whole rolled oats or the dried fruit and nut recipe in the post to janekirk should keep energy levels from waning and hunger at bay.

Q. Andreama1: My almost three-year-old daughter likes to snack lots during the day (mainly healthy foods). When it comes to dinner-time she's not hungry. Should I encourage her not to snack so much, or this okay for her age?

A. Lucy Thomas: Snacks form an important part of a child's diet to help make sure they eat the necessary nutrients and calories throughout the day, especially as their small tummies cannot manage to fit all their requirements in at just three meals a day. So three meals and two or three snacks per day should fill their requirements. It's good that you mention the snacks you offer are healthy however I would make sure that you decide on a time in the morning and a time in the afternoon when you offer a snack and stick to this. This should help regulate your daughter's appetite and make sure that she is not filling up too much before meals.

You don't mention whether your daughter also drinks milk or squash throughout the day, as this can fill up small tummies and reduce appetite too. In the beginning you might need to bring lunch and teatime forward by half an hour to help your daughter adjust, and if she is really struggling before a meal, offer her something tiny like a slice of cucumber or raw carrot to keep her going, my friend always gave her twins a couple of olives or a small slice of cheese to nibble on as the intense flavour kept them satisfied whilst she got dinner ready but didn't spoilt their appetites. 

Q. adoptmama: My almost seven-year-old daughter has always had a lot of sensory problems which include smells and textures. She won't eat a lot of food she likes the taste of such as peach, orange etc because of the texture (she will eat them pureed like you get in baby food jars however). The only vegetables she eats are broccoli and cauliflower (both have similar texture). She is highly fearful of trying new foods and will gag strongly if forced. She rejects any strong flavours. How do I help her vary her diet and learn to tolerate new foods?

A. Lucy Thomas: Texture plays a huge part in food and eating and therefore children with various sensory integration or aversion difficulties can find mealtimes and new foods extremely challenging. It's brilliant that your daughter enjoys both broccoli and cauliflower – many children would turn their nose up at both of these highly nutritious vegetables, and if she can tolerate smooth fruit or juices then she is getting some of the necessary and important nutrients. Your daughter's gag reflex is very sensitive and forcing her to eat something new will set it off and also make her more fearful.

Take a very simple approach and on a piece of paper draw a table with columns, at the top of each column draw an eye, the next an ear, the next a nose, the next lips, the next column a tongue, the next some teeth and the last one a mouse. If your drawing (like mine) leaves a lot to be desired, then print some pictures off the internet or cut them out from a magazine for the corresponding icons.

The idea is to choose a food, for example orange, and taking a slice for yourself and one for your daughter work through the chart, beginning with the eye, this picture asks you and your daughter to just look at the orange and if she can look and talk about it place a tick in the column under the eye. Work through each of the senses, listening to the food, then smelling etc and offering a tick for each step taken, do not force your daughter to do more than she can manage.

Make sure you choose a time when you are both relaxed and there is no time pressure to do anything else. See if your daughter can gradually, over time work her way through the chart to placing the orange on her lips, tongue, brush her teeth with it and eventually take a tiny mouse nibble (the teeniest of nibbles) this is a graded exposure approach and will take time and patience but provides a step by step approach to helping your daughter through what can feel like a sensory mine field of food.

Q. sweetlouise: Can I ask what your thoughts are on rewarding a child on eating a new food? My son is five and it is only now we are making progress with vegetables. He gets to select a new vegetable each week and for that week we have that vegetable with every meal. Some with success, some without. If he does well on the week he is rewarded with additional pocket money (we are also teaching him the value of £1). He does not eat many other foods but we thought prioritising vegetables would be of greatest benefit.

A. Lucy Thomas: Sounds like you have a very good and consistent plan that is working, well done on setting that up. Also allowing a week for exploring and adjusting to a new food particularly a vegetable (that doesn't form the main component of the meal) is a great approach, it also sounds as if you are being very realistic and not expecting your son to like everything.

Reward and praise are great motivation for children, and I always make a point of using both so long as they are not food related. For example I would not recommend bribing a child to eat their peas so that they can then have chocolate. Mealtimes for especially picky or selective eaters can turn into a battle of wills between parents and children. But however difficult a situation might be to work through, no matter how tired or exhausted you are feeling it's never a good idea to bribe children to get them to eat.

"Reward and praise are great motivation for children, and I always make a point of using both so long as they are not food related."

Bribes are never good practice and certainly not when it comes to issues of food and eating. Initially it might seem like rather a good idea and pretty harmless to offer chocolate as a reward for eating peas, especially if it gets all the peas eaten. However on closer consideration, a bribe can actually cause the disliked food to become even more undesirable as the food related reward of chocolate implies that the peas are bad. The consequence as a result of the food bribe is that the child will always expect a chocolate for eating peas and will always struggle to enjoy them and probably never accept them.

However, charting your child's progress over a week and supporting them through the process and offering a weekly reward for their efforts whether it is money, stickers, a magazine or some computer time is a really positive approach. Keep up the great work!

This Q&A is sponsored by Organix. 

 

 

Last updated: 30-Jan-2014 at 12:15 PM