Avoid 'pushing' a child to eat
If the child doesn’t eat very much then this may well be because they’re not actually hungry.
Professor Campbell suggests parents leave the food for the amount of time they feel is appropriate, and ideally when the parent is sitting at the table and eating too.
“Then you can remove the food without comment. Try to back away and let them feel some autonomy in their eating. It’s similar to baby-led weaning, where the baby is provided with food on their high chair tray – and they take control of their eating – usually with much mess and hands.
The main idea here is that parents are not involved in seeking to ‘push’ their child to eat – the outcome of having a bowl of food and a spoon placed squarely in the parent’s hands, Professor Campbell says.
“Of course, once parents introduce a spoon to mealtimes there’s a desire to keep pushing until the bowl is finished. It’s a little bit about power and a little bit about seeing that they finish their food.”
Try not to bring your own bias to the table
When it comes to a healthy diet, Professor Campbell says the idea of what a truly healthy diet looks like will differ across cultures.
“If you look at diets that will promote our health across life, they are rich in plant foods, such as fruit and vegetables, nuts and seeds, legumes and whole grain cereals. We need more of these foods and less fat and sugar than we currently eat.
“While this is the ideal, the opposite is our reality. We know that children eat relatively fewer vegetables as they move through childhood and that sweet snacks and drinks are often the foods that replace them.”
Professor Campbell’s work with many parents over the past 20 years highlights that parents often bring their own biases about vegetables to the table. It’s important that the fact that we don’t enjoy particular foods – often vegetables – shouldn’t limit us offering these to our children.
“We’ll all be far healthier if we eat a wide range of vegetables in the context of a healthy diet. It’s really important to be aware of your own food biases and to try not to pass these on to your children.
“Parents often fall into the trap of thinking their children won’t like what they don’t like. Most of us don’t eat a wide variety of vegetables. Another thing to remember is that if you offer your child, broccoli for example, and they spit it out, it doesn’t mean they don’t like it.
“Research tell us that it takes up to ten tastes of a new food – ideally served with a known and loved food – to see if they enjoy it. We can all get acclimatised to different tastes.”
Professor Campbell invites all parents of very young children to take part in a free online course Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids, led by nutritional experts from Deakin University’s School of Exercise and Nutrition Science.
In the course parents learn what and how much to feed babies, how to wean them and practical strategies for dealing with fussy eaters as babies move from milk to mushy foods to take their place at the family table.