If I had to pick the most popular topic we discuss with our customers, this is it – fussy eating.
When my eldest son, Lucas suddenly began showing signs of fussy eating, I was shocked.
My first reaction was disbelief, followed by mild panic. “What? But you have a European background. How can you not love your food?”
It was a challenging time. Motherhood, I had discovered, was hard. I turned to the maternal health nurses for help and had so much conflicting advice. One would say “You’re his mother, trust your instincts.” Another would say “What are you doing? You should be doing this!” and everything in between.
I decided I was not going to let this get me down. I would work it out myself – I would trust myself. I simply decided whatever he was going to eat, it had to be GOOD.
So that’s where it all started. My burning need to nourish my children the right way was the catalyst for Baby Bistro.
Looking back, I think I started Lucas on solids too young and also his food preferences were just part of his personality. Even though I initially labelled Lucas as a fussy eater, I now see it differently – he has strong opinions on lots of things!
I’ve developed my own theories around fussy eating and at the very heart of it, there are four simple things to remember:
- Fussy eating is a label we readily give to kids who ‘don’t eat everything’. I truly believe we ought to avoid the fussy eater label and accept that our kids are just in a constant period of change. They are developing physically, emotionally and mentally. This is just a part of it!
- Eating is a learning experience. Children’s taste buds are still developing and when they taste things their reaction is heightened. Constant experimentation with new foods, tastes and textures is critical to the development of their palate.
- Kids have likes and dislikes just like adults. It’s important to respect their feelings and not become frustrated. Some days they are just not as hungry as other days, or just don’t want what you are offering!
- No matter what anyone says, we know our children best. It’s important to feel confident in your own judgement and decision.
So if your child is showing signs of ‘fussy eating’, here’s a great list of tips for babies, toddlers and big kids!
Firstly – remember to go with the flow.
It’s so easy to get into your daily routine and expect everything to happen the way you ‘plan’ or have been told things should be. Everyone has an opinion on eating, and we often have a lot of mixed information and expectations. Try to trust in your child and trust in yourself. It has taken a while, but I now trust that my boys will eat as much as they need to, not as much as I need them to.
For your baby
Offer the same food up to 10-20 times.
Yes, it can take that many times. Baby’s taste buds are not fully developed and it can take up to 10 tries or more before they like a flavour. Be consistent in your approach and revisit a food every few weeks or months. Don’t give up!
Encourage self-feeding and don’t worry about the mess
Give them a spoon and let them feed themselves – its good practice and helps build motor skills. Remember that your baby is learning about texture, colour and smells. Let them make a mess without the stress!
Stay calm, mum
If your baby refuses, calmly pack up and offer again 15-20 minutes later. Don’t show your baby that you are upset about them not eating their lunch/dinner. If you are worried about how much they are eating, be sure to offer something you know your baby will eat as well. Mealtimes should be fun. Make food a positive experience.
Stick to a routine
Children thrive on routine. Set a daily routine that works for you and your family. My boys know that breakfast, lunch and dinner times are set and that makes meal times easier.
Small portions work best
Don’t fill your toddler’s plate with food, as this can be overwhelming. Don’t forget that your toddler has a small stomach – it’s only the size of their fist.
Offer small portions and start slow. If they finish their plate, ask if they want more.
Allow your toddler to decide when they have had enough.
A toddler instinctively knows how much food they need. Toddlers control very little in their lives, but the foods they eat are one thing they can control. Many toddlers enjoy asserting their independence at mealtimes.
Never force feed your toddler, as this can cause choking and vomiting or set negative associations around food and mealtimes.
Make lunch time meals fun and interactive
Get them involved, even if they help set the table or put veggies in a bowl. Get them interested in food and mix it up every mealtime. Offer new flavours and let them explore.
For big kids
Introduce the ‘try it once’ rule
In our house we have the ‘try it once’ rule. You don’t know you don’t like it until you try it! It’s OK not to like something, but always encourage them to try it once.
Eat with your children
Children learn by watching us. Sit down together at mealtimes, whenever you can, to create mealtime memories.
Resist the urge to bribe!
Don’t turn to bribes to encourage your child to eat and definitely do not bribe with dessert. This will only bring on more issues around dinner time, teaching them the association that eating a plate of food equals reward.
Encourage adventures with food
Offer a range of different foods repeatedly. Exposure to a wide range of healthy foods will help.
Don’t let your child snack on the bad stuff!
Offer fruit or yogurt at snack time, nothing too heavy. There is no need for sweets or fatty foods. Snacking all day may spoil their appetite.
Most of all – don’t stress.
Show your child how much you enjoy food and mealtimes. It’s so important to make eating a fun and positive experience!