Our elders tell us that kids eat whatever you get them in the habit of and that in my opinion is the biggest misconception on planet earth. Both my kids have had fresh pureed fruit and vegetables as infants, and I did not feed them any store bought cereals. Now, my daughter loves her salad but my son does not touch it. She also loves her cake and is the first one to finish dessert. So, my struggle is to control my children’s sweet tooth, feed them healthy alternates and make vegetables interesting for my six-year-old. Do you have a fussy eater at home? Try these tips below:

Muffin Tin Meals

Basically you just use a muffin tin, load it up with a variety of foods and serve the muffin tin as your child’s plate for lunch (or dinner). You can make a day out of it “Muffin Tin Monday,” where they are supposed to try every food in each muffin cup. The foods can be vegetables, (try green peas as kids are fascinated with tiny green balls in a cup), cheese strips, fruits chicken/ meat chunks in a light curry, rice, their favourite lentil (try red beans salad with a few tomatoes and finely shredded bell pepper to add colour), yogurt with dark chocolate chips and raisins. You can add wheat crackers or chapatti cut into pieces.

For incentives, make sure one muffin cup has an actual cupcake which they get to eat after trying out all the other things. If you have not tried Muffin Tin Monday, give it a whirl. I bet your kids will love it!

Do Not Focus on the Food

Although both my kids are fairly good eaters, they have each put us through our paces at mealtimes, whether it is refusing to eat what is on the menu, throwing food and making a mess. There are common parenting strategies I have tested myself that DO NOT work. Common phrases we all use include: “It is dinner time—come right now and eat,” “Please try this—it is so good for you” or “No, you cannot eat cucumbers only—you have hardly touched your chapatti or meat.” Mealtimes do not have to bring on anxiety if you can master the art of backing off. It is imperative that you take the pressure off to make mealtimes more peaceful.

This can be really excruciatingly hard, especially if you feel that your child is the kind who can go on without food all day, unless forced.

Taking the focus off of the food and focusing more on family time (talking about everyone’s day, asking about what happened at school, talking about the upcoming zoo trip etc.) makes your child feel at ease and will increase the likelihood of her trying things on her own.

Although we as parents have the best intentions for our fussy eaters, we often enable picky eating and perpetuate the problem by putting all of the focus on food.

Meal Time is Around the Table

I have made an extra effort with this one because when you live in a joint family where you have kids with different eating habits, it becomes hard to set rules that everyone abides by. I am a private person by nature.

I need my time and space exclusively with my children and I feel that bed time and meal times are the best to get to know my children better. It was tough, but I set a rule that, nobody will run around my kids with food and the food will wait for them on the table. If they are unwell, there is always an exception, but not on a daily basis. It is also not easy to make everyone understand that this rule is good for all, but with time, I am enforcing this with a firm hand- meal time is on the table, the catch is, there is no rule that they have to eat. When my son says “But I am not hungry” or “I do not want rice again!” I calmly reply “You do not have to eat, but it is mealtime so you must come to the table.” Nine times out of 10, he eats a fair amount of his meal happily. (Like today’s lunch time!)

Mommies, we have known for a long time that kids need repeated (and non-pressured) exposure to certain foods to warm up to them, but parents – me included – are often quick to assume that their child will not even touch it, so they do not bother serving it. It is always best not to assume and give these tips a try.

Worst come to worst, it won’t work and you may end up cursing me, and I can live with that. *smiles*

–The writer is an Islamabad based Barrister and mommy of two