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17 ways to convert your fussy eater

Banish your child’s bad eating habits with these easy and effective ideas

Play the food detective game
Make rejecting things into a game – children find it enjoyable to criticise the adult world and become detectives outwitting the enemy.

Take a look at the ingredients on some children’s breakfast cereals and explain that a teaspoon of sugar weighs about 6g. The weight of sugar per portion is given on the packet and so it’s easy to work out that most of these cereals contain more than 6 teaspoons per bowl of cereal. Explain how manufacturers try to conceal sugar by putting it further down the list of ingredients by disguising it under different names like Glucose, Fructose, Sucrose and Maltose. Show how juice drinks often contain only 6% juice and that they should look for pure fruit juices.

How to survive the supermarket
Let’s face it, the typical weekly shopping trip is boring for children and just like adults, children react to boredom by moaning or wanting to eat. Play games like asking your child to find six fruits and vegetables that are red that they like to eat or choose six foods made from the milk you get from cows. Tell them that for every six healthy foods they put in the trolley they can choose a treat and when they have eaten the healthy food they can have the treat. >

How to run the checkout gauntlet
If you can’t avoid the checkout laden with sweets, distract your child. Get her to help unload the shopping. Play games like asking where she thinks the fruit and vegetables in the trolley come from and which ones are grown in England.

Don’t be scared of saying ‘No’
Children are good at inducing parental guilt but you will just end up making life hard for yourself if they know they can twist you around their little finger. Instead of rewarding good behaviour with sweets or crisps, it’s a good idea to encourage them to choose a different kind of treat like stickers, a novelty pen or a comic.

Your dentist is your ally
Next time your child visits the dentist, ask her to explain what will happen to their teeth if they eat too many sweets and drink too many sugary drinks. You can remind them of this the next time they demand the latest sweets and crisps they’ve seen on TV.

Don’t make a fuss
If your child refuses to eat anything other than junk food, try and chill out about it, he will soon find there’s not much point making a fuss if you don’t react.

Don’t buy It
Often parents tell me: ‘My three year old only eats spaghetti hoops, chips and chocolate biscuits.’ Is this parent saying that their child takes the car keys, drives to the supermarket and fills up the trolley with junk food and then drives home? Who is in charge here? It’s always going to be more difficult to get your child to eat something healthy if there’s a tin of spaghetti hoops and chocolate cake in the fridge.

Don’t skip breakfast
Make sure your child doesn’t leave home without breakfast. This will prevent his blood sugar levels from dropping and prevent them from reaching for sugary snacks mid-morning.

The forbidden fruit
Make a plan for eating chocolates and sweets. It would be unfair to ban them completely and the forbidden fruit is always more tempting. Perhaps allow them twice a week: Friday after supper and Sunday afternoon.

Make food fun
Remember food is not just fuel – it can be fun, too. Manufacturers are clever and make their products appealing to kids. Woolworths sells flashing lollies. Press a button on the stick of the lolly and a light inside the sweet flashes. Children like cheese strings and squeezy tubes of fromage frais so we, too, need to be a little inventive in how we present our healthy food. Mini portions of foods, like cottage pie, in a small dish look far more attractive than a lump of food on a plate. You can purée fresh fruit and freeze it in ice lolly moulds to make your own fresh fruit ice lollies. Children love Chinese-style food and you can give them child-friendly chopsticks that are joined at the top.

Demand school rules on pack lunches
At lunch, children often compare the contents of their lunchboxes and judge each other on whether they have the latest advertised brands to eat. It’s hard to pack a healthy lunchbox with all this peer pressure. Ask your child’s school for some rules about what children can have in their lunch box. Get a group of your child’s friend’s parents together and agree not to give your children heavily marketed processed foods, salty foods, chocolates or sweets in their lunchbox.

Make your own pack lunch gimmicks
If a product is marketed as suitable for a child’s lunchbox, take a close look at the label – more than likely it’s highly processed, sugary, salty or full of fat. Some products contain as much salt as a young child should have in an entire day in one small snack. Beware of play value – manufacturers know that children like the DIY aspect of products like build your own pizza or Lunchable Stack Ems. Make your food fun and exciting: try threading things like cherry tomatoes and cheese or fresh and dried fruit onto a little straw.

Watch out for the gimmicks yourself!
Seemingly healthy and nutitious foods can often be deceiving. With some schools, banning chocolate from packed lunchboxes means that cereal bars are often substituted for confectionery. Many of these cereal bars contain more than 40% sugar – more calories from sugar than you would find in milk chocolate. Also, whilst sugar eaten in a bowl of cereal tends to get washed away by the milk, in sticky cereal bars it will still be sticking to their teeth by the time they get home.

Prepare for after school hunger pangs
After school is a great time to get your child to eat something healthy as they generally come home starving. The trouble is most children dive into the biscuit tin or grab a chocolate bar after school. Have something ready prepared on the table. Sliced fruit on a plate is much more tempting than in a fruit bowl, children like raw veg with a tasty dip. It’s quick and easy to make delicious wraps, pitta pockets or pasta salads and it’s a good idea to have a low shelf in the fridge where children can help themselves to tasty healthy snacks.

Enjoy Family Meals
Try to eat together as a family as much as possible. If your child sees you eating healthy food, he’s far less likely to reject it.

Cooking with Your Child
Children love to cook and it’s a great way of bonding with your child and getting them to try eating new foods.

Suggest prizes for healthy eaters
Some schools have introduced an incentive scheme where children collect points on their lunch card every time they choose a healthy option and these points add

up to a gift like CDs or a trip to a football match at the end of term. Maybe you could organise a collection amongst the parents and introduce this scheme at your child’s school.

How to get your 5 fruit and veg portions a day

If your child will not eat vegetables, create recipes that vegetables can be blended into, such as a tomato and vegetable sauce for pasta or a creamy tomato soup made with carrots and onions. What children can’t see, they can’t pick out.
Create fun ways of eating fruit. Cut kiwis in half, put them into egg cups and let your child eat them using a teaspoon. Thread fruit onto skewers or straws. Purée and sieve berry fruits, mix with cranberry juice and freeze in ice lolly moulds to make fresh fruit ice lollies.
Often children prefer raw vegetables to cooked. Sticks of carrot, sweet pepper, sugar snap peas make good after school snacks and you can serve them with a dip like hummus. Wrap raw vegetables in damp kitchen paper if putting them in a lunchbox to keep them fresh.
A good way to encourage your child to eat more fruit is to get him involved making fruit smoothies. All you need is an electric hand blender. Make combinations like mango, banana strawberry and fresh orange juice.

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