You are NOT a failure! Navigating life with your fussy eater

Being bombarded by constant headlines and social media about healthy eating can make us all feel like a failure. The many contradictory information out there just makes it all harder to navigate busy parenthood.

Even though I am a qualified nutrition coach and know what foods my kids should be eating to maximise their health, it seems impossible to get this perfect every single day with every single meal. This often makes me feel like a failure and gives me a massive imposter syndrome to even claim my space in the nutrition field. I get asked every week by mum friends and clients, how could they do better as they feel like a failure too. They keep trying their best and their kids keep refusing the dishes that they have carefully and mindfully prepared for them. It can get really upsetting and can become a major source of anxiety.

As parents, we also have at least five other things to do simultaneously to make sure our kids are nourished, safe and happy. So what should we focus on and prioritise?

Should I focus on what they eat or how much they eat?

As a general advice – without finding out more about the family’s eating habits and health picture – I would say first focus on getting them to eat. They need to have a minimum energy intake to function, so going in with super healthy options that they will likely refuse, will just end up in more resentment and disappointment. They will simply be unable to process the information and engage in a proper conversation with you. Don’t bother before you worked on balancing their blood sugar levels. 

Have you noticed how mardy and irritated your kids can become when they haven’t eaten enough? The “hangry monsters” can come out of nowhere leaving you guessing if your child has a personality disorder… I laugh about this but it is not funny at all. I have even researched schizophrenia once, as I just couldn’t understand the sudden mood changes, then the penny dropped. It was all (and still happens) to do with my child being super hungry and going through a massive growth spur.

The general advice and scienced backed way to balance blood sugar levels is with wholesome foods. So how can we do this when our kids just want the “junk”? The white bread, the white pasta, the chocolate and snacks that come from colourful packets?

First, get a piece of paper and write down all the dishes that they had last week, anything you can remember. Highlight what they have enjoyed and with a different colour the foods they refused or hated. This might already make you feel better, as you realise that they actually ate a lot of fruit and veg and even enjoyed a lasagne on Friday night…If this exercise made you feel worse, don’t worry, you are not alone!

Next, get another piece of paper and write down all the dishes that your kids enjoy and also list all the fruit and vegetables they like. On the other side, you can list the ones they dislike. Make sure you date this and put it away to keep track and check this list in a couple of months time.

Then ask your kids to write (or if too young, tell you) a list of their favourite foods, veg and fruit. Are these the same as on your list? As it maybe that you have missed something.

Now you should have a clearer picture of what your children like to eat. You can concentrate and build on these! Can you add some extra veggies in these dishes, from their liked vegetable list? Or can you hide some extra seeds and pulses to add some more goodness without altering the taste and texture too much?

Keep it simple and don’t worry about having the same dishes every week! Keep building on these. Keep the lists on the fridge that your kids wrote and every now and then check in with them and ask if they want to add or cross anything off their list.

Is snacking really bad?

I was often told that it was important to keep 2 hours between snack time and main meals. I am sure you are shaking your head just reading this. This will not work when your children are going through a growth spur and also involved in many after school clubs and activities. Sometimes football training is too close to dinner time so the schedule needs to be more flexible. This may also mean that your child has more snacks and a smaller dinner. You need to work around your family commitments and ignore the expert advice if that is un-doable and feels overwhelming.

If your child struggles to eat their main meal in one go, maybe the portion size is not right or they are just not hungry enough. I usually save the leftover and offer it later as supper. I also make a small platter for the girls which will have crackers, cheese, grapes on or some nuts and berries. I try mix it up every day so that they get a variety of things. I just leave it on their table without making a big fuss. You may think it gets them into a bad habit, but I would disagree. If I can get them to eat nuts and berries as a snack after dinner while they are playing on their ipads, so be it.

Find what works for your family!

Try ignore the trends and focus on your family. Be honest with yourself and what works for you and your family. Healthy will look different for everyone, and this doesn’t mean you are a failure. You can have a week when you have a few convenient options, maybe you have been poorly or had a big work project on. Have you fed your family? They didn’t go to bed with empty stomach, they are happy and safe. There is nothing to worry about. They will not get diabetes or put lots of weight on because you bought a pizza from Tesco or took them to McDonald’s. Sometimes other things are more important, like your mental health. It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent. Please remember this!

If you have any questions on this topic or would like a chat, you know where to find me!