blue mountains nutritionist fussy eating specialist

Blue Mountains Nutritionist, Fern Rodrigues, from Eat Play Learn Nutrition, specialises in challenging eating (aka fussy eating) in children, from one to 12 years old. She uses gentle but effective strategies to help you take control of your child’s nutrition with confidence. 

Fern’s exclusive article for Blue Mountains Mums gives expert advice on helping our children try new foods, educating them about food and gently encouraging our kids to develop a healthy attitude toward food.

Cooking With Children And Fussy Eating, With Blue Mountains Nutritionist, Fern Rodrigues

blue mountains nutritionist fussy eating specialist

Last year’s Film By The Eucalypts – the annual short film festival for the Blue Mountains’ public schools students – featured a couple of films that grabbed my attention as they both relate children with cooking, a topic that is very close to my heart.

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In her clip Buttercream, Mia shows total familiarity with kitchen utensils and appliances and a good understanding of buttercream preparation method. Jonah and Astrid showcase sushi making using Lego pieces in their stop-motion film.

This is a topic close to my heart because cooking is one activity that children usually enjoy and it’s a great opportunity for parents and other caregivers to educate children further on food. Yes, you heard me right, educate children on food.

father showing toddler how to make a salad

Since we are not born knowing how to cook, how to select ingredients, how to choose foods to eat, and not even knowing how to eat, these are basic skills that we must be taught. This teaching usually happens naturally as children observe and mimic adults around them that they trust. But we can also ‘amplify’ their learning by allowing activities related to eating. Like cooking, for example.

Research shows that children who cook eat better and show less fussiness at the table. Even more importantly, children who can cook grow into healthier adults.

Children and Neophobia
(The Fear of New Things)

blue mountains nutritionist fussy eating specialist, fern Rodrigues talks about the fear of trying new foods

Children will basically eat foods that are familiar to them. It’s an instinctive reaction to avoid what we don’t know as we are not sure it’s safe. Neophobia drives our reaction to everything, including our food choices. Children react to unknown things quite a lot as quite a lot of things are new to them.

So, for them to end up eating foods we want them to eat which are likely to be foods that are new to them, it is important to give them chances to learn about that food until they feel it’s safe to eat. This is called food exposure which most of the time happens at the dining table when meals are served.

little boy refusing to eat

The problem is that mealtime with children can also be a time for a lot of fuss and drama. I’m sure you have experienced occasions when you tried to encourage a toddler to eat something they were not very keen on and it didn’t end very well.

Some parents experience that every single day, mostly because they keep “encouraging” their children to eat, talking them into eating this or that food, bribing, threatening and many other strategies that turn the dining room into a battleground and meals something to dread, not only by their children.

It doesn’t have to be that way…

There’s some research suggesting that exposing children to foods – totally new foods and already-known-not-yet-loved ones – time and time again at mealtimes results in higher acceptance by those children than by children who are not exposed at all to the same foods.

Moreover, when researchers tested adding food exposure also away from the dining table, new foods acceptance increased even more in comparison to children who were not exposed to the same foods at all and was also higher in comparison to children who were exposed to those foods only at mealtimes.

three children eating soup happily

In short: food exposure on the plate works, but food exposure away from it works better. And that happens because when children are exposed to foods away from the table, there’s very little or no expectation of them eating. There’s no pressure involved and children can then explore and learn about the foods featured in the activity. In most cases, these activities are enjoyable and children have fun taking part in it.

It Is Better Not to Raise Expectations

blue mountains nutritionist fussy eating specialist suggests get children to cook in the kitchen

The caveat about cooking with children though is that many adults will expect them to eat what they have cooked. Well, I’ve got news for you: if the child isn’t yet confident enough about that particular food or one particular ingredient used in it, they can happily handle it during cooking, and still feel that it isn’t time to gobble it down yet. The quicker you accept that, the less drama you will have to handle.

My whole point with this article is to emphasise the importance of allowing children to explore and learn about foods, all foods, the ones they already like, the ones they already eat but don’t yet like, and those they don’t yet eat. It’s part of the learning process.

If parents and educators allow children to spend time and effort exploring with filmmaking, why shouldn’t they be allowed to explore foods with the same vigour?

Maybe this is a good activity to encourage your child to take on during the school holidays: come up with a creative way to showcase their favourite food in a short film to enter this year’s festival.

Written by Fern Rodrigues, fussy eating specialist at Eat Play Learn Nutrition

Where healthy eating is child’s play.

Fern Rodrigues Blue Mountains nutritionist

Based in Katoomba, Fern is your local Blue Mountains Nutritionist who helps parents and other caregivers take control of their children’s nutrition with confidence. Fern can see clients in person or via the internet for one-on-one consultations, group counselling, talks and workshops.

Visit Fern Rodrigues’ website at Eat Play Learn Nutrition and Follow ‘Eat Play Learn Nurtrition’ on Facebook to stay up to date with gentle but effective strategies to help you take control of your child’s nutrition with confidence.

References

Self-Perceived Cooking Skills in Emerging Adulthood Predict Better Dietary Behaviours and Intake 10 Years Later: A Longitudinal Study (Study, 2018, NZ/USA). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29525525/

Peas, please! Food familiarization through picture books helps parents introduce vegetables into pre-schoolers’ diets (Study, 2018, UK). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29807124/

Using repeated exposure through hands-on cooking to increase children’s preferences for fruits and vegetables (Study, 2019, USA). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31278956/ 

Cooking Matters for Kids Improves Attitudes and Self-Efficacy Related to Healthy Eating and Cooking (Study, 2022, USA). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34774426/

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