A recent food solutions survey by Anchor CalciYum canvassed 500 mums about the eating habits of their kids. Aimie Cronin discovers dinnertime isn't always fun.
Dean Devcich listens to the results of the Anchor survey about fussy eaters and checks off the results against his daughter, Maisie, who's 3.
Turns out she's a vege avoider, a safe seeker, a food separatist, a bit of a fast-food fanatic ("she knows when she's going past a McDonald's"), and she's picky about certain carbs - preferring pasta to potato.
Maisie likes broccoli. She likes processed pasta packs. She'll eat cucumber and beetroot if they are together on the plate - but forget about most other fruit and veges.
And she's not scared of putting up a fight.
"It comes down to us telling her she can't have anything else, but we tend to give in a bit," says Dean.
"We do have a rule they won't get anything [for dessert] until they eat their dinner and that usually makes them give it a nudge."
There are four young people to feed at the Devcich dinner table each night and Dean says his wife, Liana, often ends up cooking three or four different meals to satisfy the kids.
It's no wonder he later describes mealtimes as a battle.
Andrea Stringer is a family coach at The Parenting Place in Auckland and spokeswoman for the Anchor research. When she learned 85 per cent of mums in the survey had experienced fussy eating, she wasn't surprised. She has two daughters of her own and says there have been battles at her own dinner table.
"It's never ending how far you can take that battle."
Stringer says the first thing parents need to do is realise how common the food issue is and take comfort in the fact it's a normal, developmental phase that usually resolves itself after a few years.
"Parents need to remember to stay relaxed about food and mealtimes and not to be too coercive or heavy handed.
"You basically want to charm them through it."
Stay positive. And don't give up. She says it over and over.
"If your child chooses not to eat something, that's OK, but it doesn't mean that food won't be on their plate tomorrow night."
Exposing your child to different foods patiently and over time often has a positive outcome, says Stringer. Growing a vege garden so that kids are part of the process often helps.
And she commends parents who get creative to lure a fussy child.
"Mums are becoming incredibly savvy with mealtime solutions, and these determined efforts are having a positive effect on children's long-term behaviour."
But she cautions parents who continually mask food so their children don't know what's in front of them. "I recommend balance with what you do - you don't want the strategies to take over your life. Sometimes you might hide veges in a pattie, or whiz them up, and sometimes you'll just put them out . . . keep presenting the food, otherwise they won't get used to it."
And while it may seem an impossible task, when multiple mouths are closed to the food that's in front of them and parents are tired at the end of the day, Stringer says it's important to stay relaxed and remember mealtimes are a chance to be together. "You want pleasant memories of what the family dinner table is like."
Co-owner of Grey St Kitchen Bobbie Lean is one of seven children. Her mum was a nurse who believed that what she spent on food, she saved on doctor's bills. Lean remembers a pantry filled with cases of fruit and bottles of preserves and mealtimes where dinner was "always four or five veges and then the meat".
"There was always a dessert to fill up the hollow legs and in the winter there was always soup."
Lean is a mother and grandmother and her attitude towards food is evident when browsing the deli cabinet or the menu at Grey St Kitchen - fresh, good food and all made on-site.
She has always had a kids' menu to cater to the young ones, and there's not a french fry or chicken nugget in sight.
"There has been disappointment at the lack of fried food - some people will look for chips as a first option for their children - but we don't have anything deep-fried on any menu . . . the beauty of owning your own cafe is that you get to dictate a little bit."
Lean remembers getting creative with food when her children were little. Instead of the sugary offerings at most kids' parties, she would cut up fruit and veg and present them in a quirky way that was a hit with the youngsters. "To make dinnertime more interesting, I would trim the broccoli and line it along the plate and I'd call them trees. I'd say to the kids, ‘You've got to drop your trees before you can get to everything else'."
Veges came first ("pudding was optional, you had to finish your dinner"), and each child would choose how much food they wanted on the plate so they were responsible for it.
Her advice to parents who are struggling with a fussy child: "My mother's saying was that children won't starve themselves. So, don't freak out if they're not eating, but when you put the food on their plate, make sure it's the right food."
SOME STATS FROM THE ANCHOR CALCIYUM FOOD SOLUTIONS SURVEY:
Current strategies used by parent:
Hide/disguise food - 57 per cent
Use sauces – 51 per cent
Treats – 39 per cent
Make food into shapes – 32 per cent
Withhold treats – 31 per cent
Sticker/rewards charts – 26 per cent
Threats – 22 per cent
Kids' eating habits & food personalities:
Vege avoiders – 58 per cent
Safe seekers (the unadventurous) – 49 per cent
Texture tyrants (particular about texture) 49 per cent
Food separatists (separate food on the plate) – 35 per cent
Carbo kids (only eat certain carbs) – 23 per cent
Fruit forbidders – 21 per cent
Meal skippers – 12 per cent
Colour kids (only eat certain coloured foods) – 8 per cent
Fast food fanatics (only eat fast foods) – 6 per cent
Tin can fans – 1 per cent
Other – 16 per cent
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