Tackling food refusal in kids to avoid mood problems

Mealtimes can be stressful for parents and carers when their child is rejecting important nutrient rich foods. Many parents struggle with kids that only want white foods, i.e. pasta, bread, white sugar products. Other parents worry about their child’s iron levels because they have a major aversion to meat.

A really big concern is that mental health issues like anxiety and depression can arise when kids avoid nutrient rich anti inflammatory foods over a long period of time. Important nutritional cofactors for making healthy neurotransmitters are not made and gut bacteria are not fed important fibre and this can lead to mood changes. In order for our kids to have happy, healthy moods it is important to encourage them to eat a healthy diet.

Here are some strategies to try that are real winners if implemented consistently.

Introduce variety early

If you have babies and toddlers get them eating a wide range of foods early on in the piece. Give foods that engage not just sweet and salty taste receptors. Give sour and bitter foods too. The look on a baby’s face when they taste lemon for the first time is priceless.

Giving young children nutrient dense foods that contain good fats and protein are fantastic first foods for brain development. Grate frozen organic liver into casseroles to give them an added Vitamin A and B vitamin boost. Get good fats in with deep sea fish such as sardines and anchovies at a young age. Introduce bitter foods such as rocket, lemon and vinegars to get a more rounded palate happening.

Give new foods with already well liked foods

When you know your child has never tried asparagus then try adding it to a dish with other well loved foods to get kids willing to give it more of a go. It seems less confronting when most of what is on the plate is familiar.

Give kids choices

Mastering the option question is a great parenting skill to have. You can extend it from do you want to wear the blue or red dress today to would you like cucumber or carrot in your lunchbox?

Being given a choice is very empowering for a young child and helps them feel like they are a part of the process. It also helps parents get the outcome (in this case, something healthy eaten) they are after too. Win win.

Stay calm and positive after food rejection

Losing your cool after kids tell you the meal you spent over an hour preparing is yuck! Is not a great way to react. Kids are usually not that great at empathy and seeing the trouble you go to with food preparation. Stay calm when food is rejected. Try ocusing and commenting on the positives happening here. For instance, comment on how good it was to see kids remaining seated at the table during dinner or eating the vegetables beside the main meal. This is a good strategy for keeping mealtimes positive and not becoming traumatic for all involved.

Find different ways to prepare the said rejected food

Your kid may not like steamed broccoli florets but they may love them chargrilled on the BBQ or prefer eating the broccoli stems when steamed

Add flavour

Try adding nut and seed sprinkles on toast with avocado or onto breakfast bowls, cinnamon to porridge or stewed fruit, butter on steamed vegetables tangy guacamole with vegetable sticks

Present said rejected food again. And again. And again.

Many parents fall into the routine of only giving the foods they know their kids will eat. If you never present a variety of healthy foods you will never know if your child may actually like mushrooms.

Talk about how yummy the food is
This often works with younger kids when their carers are their idols. Hearing mum say “I love stir fry! It’s my favourite dinner” can inspire kids to want to be like mum and give it a try. Talking up healthy food options is your way of counteracting all the advertising of terrible junk food out there. Think of it as your way of balancing the message.

Prepare and present good food

Don’t ask the kids what they want for a mid morning or afternoon snack. Just make a plateful of veg sticks with hommus, cubed cheese and fruit. Place it on the kitchen table or kitchen counter and often there is no need to say much. Kids, if hungry will eat some if not all of it.