dealing with fussy eating toddlers
fussy eating

The ‘No Plan B’ Approach

How to deal with fussy eating to prevent mealtimes from becoming stressful in your home…

As a mom who loves talking about nourishing children with only the healthiest ingredients, and yet I have a toddler whom is going through an extremely fussy-eating phase, I find myself questioning whether I have actually done enough to ensure that my son has been exposed to enough of the healthy stuff.

Lately I find myself increasingly frustrated at my son’s refusal to try anything new, anything healthy and anything that hasn’t been crumbed or deep-fried. Like most parents, I worry that he isn’t getting in enough quality nutrients and that, if I don’t give him what he enjoys eating, he will go hungry.

After conducting some research on this topic around picky eating in toddlers and chatting to my paed, it is comforting to know that this phase is totally normal and can last up until our little ones are five years old. This is all information that I had already read about however, when a parent is experiencing it first-hand, our better judgement becomes clouded by the usual paranoia when it concerns one’s own child.

In one of my last posts, I discussed top ten tips for dealing with fussy easting but something I wanted to talk about specifically in this post is based on some advice I recently received. It’s something I am guilty of doing constantly and I know most parents are guilty of it too: when our kids refuse to eat their meals, we start serving them up something else that we think they’ll like, purely to get some food into their little bellies. We launch straight into ‘selling’ different dishes – anything other than the offending meal in question – describing food as excitedly as possibly, like a cordon bleu trained waiter eager to to get our tiny patron to sample anything.

This is the ‘Plan B’ – the substitute meal – or the Plan, C, D, E and F in many cases of sheer desperation.

The problem with this approach is that your child quickly learns that if they don’t like what is put in front of them, they will eventually be served up something that they do actually like: a logical connection for children and as they enter their toddler years and discover the novelty of calling the shots.

I have witnessed this first-hand in my own household: my son has worked out that he can simply ask for toast or crackers (or something he equally enjoys), in place of the nutritious plate of chicken and veggies sitting in front of him, and mama will magically make them appear. So while I understand that fussy eating is common in toddlers, after taking a step back and looking at my actions, I realise that my own behaviour has not helped the situation.

This is one of the biggest reasons, I believe, that my son feels he can call the shots when it comes to mealtimes and something that needs undoing if I want to start instilling better eating habits in him.

If, like me, you are concerned that your child is going to starve – something that is quite a controversial topic when it comes to dealing with fussy eating – here are a few tactics that I have researched, which I have started putting into practice in my own home:

  • Make the change and stick with it. As with everything else when it comes to raising little people, they need time to adjust to change and you need the patience that goes along with it. You are going to experience a few tears and tantrums along the way but soon your child will realise that they can’t always have it their way when it comes to mealtimes. Your child will soon learn that if they don’t eat the meal placed in front of them, they will need to wait until the next meal or snack time to eat again.
  • Always be mindful about what your child needs. Sometimes your child may have a genuine disliking toward a certain meal and you shouldn’t force it on them. That is not what this approach is about – rather it’s about exposing them to new and nutritious foods by breaking them out of a cycle of only being served a limited number of favourite or ‘safe’ foods.
  • Remove food after 20-30 minutes. Provide them with enough of an opportunity to eat their meal but remove it after some time. This will assist with their understanding that they need to eat during specific mealtimes or else they will need to wait until their next meal or snack.
  • Follow a routine when it comes to meal and snack times to assist your child with pre-empting when he or she will next be fed. If your child is fed erratically and constantly throughout the day (even if meals are smaller), they will soon learn that, if they don’t eat the meal in front of them, there will be something else to eat immediately afterwards. You should be aiming for three main meals and two snacks (one mid morning and one in the afternoon).
  • When offering your little one a new food, serve it up with something familiar. This will instill a level of comfort to avoid overwhelming your child i.e.: if your child has always shied away from leafy greens, but always been a fan of potato, serve the two together.
  • Serve two courses. Follow a meal with something sweet and healthy like some fresh fruit or fruit purèe. This will ensure that your child won’t go hungry if they flat-out refuse to eat their main meal, and that they’ll be getting in some quality nutrients.
  • Keep things exciting. If your child point blank refuses to eat the meal your prepared for them yesterday, wait a few days before serving it up again, and when you do, serve it up in a different way.
  • Take it slow. If you find that your child is becoming increasingly stressed at mealtimes as with your new ‘No Plan B’ approach, only try new foods every second day to give them a break.
  • Get family and caregivers on board. If you are relying on others to care for your child, you need to ensure that they are following the same approach as in your home.
  • Remove distractions. This is something that I have pointed out in my previous posts and yet something I am guilty of during many mealtimes. If you want to give your child the best shot of engaging with different foods, you need to turn off the TV, iPad, phone, toys and just about anything that is going to cause too much of a distraction.
  • Know when to seek professional help: if you are genuinely concerned that your child is not growing and developing as a result of their fussy eating, consult your medical advisor.

I hope you found this approach on dealing with fussy eating helpful – keep a look out for more posts like this one as I navigate my way through my toddler’s picky eating phase. For other posts on Fussy eating, have a look at; Top 10 Tips for Dealing with a Fussy Eater, Fussy Eating 101 and Mindful Parenting & Fussy Eating.

*The above information should never replace the advice of your paed, nurse or GP.

Dealing with fussy eating in children
fussy eating

Mindful Parenting & Fussy Eating

Practical tips on dealing with children who are fussy eaters and how parents should behave

With a two year old son of my own, I am no stranger to trying every trick in the book to get him to expand his repertoire of beige foods (chicken nuggets, fish fingers, potato, pasta, bread, bananas, cereal – you get the picture?) and embrace some colours (or maybe one other) of the rainbow in his diet.

Experts say that fussy eating is more common in children with heightened sensory sensitivity and it has been traced back to genetics. What’s important to note is that most picky eating habits kick in from about the age of two and generally disappear anywhere between three to six years old. Neophobia is the fear and anxiety associated with any new foods (most commonly experienced by two year olds) however, as they grow older and learn to cope better with the unknown, so their anxiety dissipates.

Since embarking on the journey of becoming a mommy and starting this blog, I have become hyper aware of how parents react to and deal with their children’s eating habits  – including my own!

This is a topic that I take especially seriously because parental behaviour around feeding times is one of the greatest influences on our little people’s relationship with food for the rest of their lives. We sometimes aren’t even aware that we are behaving in a certain way, or that our own bad habits now have a greater impact, and it requires taking a step back to consider how our actions (including all the little things we say) may be internalised in all the wrong ways by our children.

Now, while we have limited or no control over some of our  children’s challenges with food, we absolutely have some control over their relationship with food. Here are some tips to keep in mind the next time you serve something up to your little ones:

Never EVER force the issue 

‘Gently guiding’ a spoonful of food into your child’s clenched jaw is never ok – as tempting as it sometimes may seem to get them to just taste something. The consensus amongst feeding professionals however is that any type of extreme pressure or force is traumatising for a child. Sometimes the things that you may perceive to be minimal may, in fact, be severe for your child: your child’s reaction will guide you (tears, crying or vomiting are loud and clear red flags that your are causing extreme pressure for your child.) Watch for and listen to the signs, even when they aren’t able to yet vocalise how they feel.

Repeated exposure is recommended as the most effective tactic to overcome neophobia: a child should be exposed to the same food between 10-15 times, without any pressure to eat it. Feeding your child the things they actually like is a good thing (even if you feel a little boring) but do it in conjunction with exposing them to new foods. That means that persistence is key (even when your pet is the one eating the carrot and cucumber batons that have been artistically sprinkled all over the kitchen floor).

Ditch the labels and name-calling

Us parents are quick to find names for our kids, especially the ones we hear other parents talking about, leading us to quickly jump to the assumption that our child is/has something based on what we believe may be the ‘tell-tale symptoms’. If you label your child as a ‘fussy eater’ or any similar names – and then proceed to call them this in their presence – you are setting the scene for them to conform to these expectations.

Don’t get caught up in ‘the worry cycle’

 One sure way to elevate your child’s anxiety around mealtimes is a parent who notably stresses about how much their child is getting into his/her tummy. Now as parents, it is our natural instinct to worry about our children’s growth and development: that is our role as nurturers, after all. The problem is that – largely due to the endless amount of information at our fingertips at any given moment – we worry ourselves about our children’s challenges around eating, which may be totally unfounded. The result is some seriously anxious parents who, in turn, transfer that stress onto their kids, and so begins a vicious cycle of worry and anxiety for both the parent and the child (something that has been termed ‘The Worry Cycle’). Remember two little words: KEEP CALM.

Avoid shame, guilt and bribes

From the less severe  – “If you have one more bite of these yummy veggies, you can watch Paw Patrol”– to the slightly more so – “If you loved mommy you would eat these vegetables.” and to the downright extreme – “If you don’t eat your veggies, you’ll be punished.” – all of these ‘tactics’ are often  potentially damaging to your little one’s relationship with food for the remainder of their lives.

Whether to please you or to avoid punishment, you don’t want your child to learn to eat for all the wrong reasons: something that will no doubt stand in the way of them developing a healthy awareness of their own internal cues, now and later on in life.

Rely a little less on distractions

We are all guilty of it…turning on the TV or iPad to get your child to sit in their chair and taste the meal you desperately want them to like. Whilst we may believe that turning on a screen may get a few more bites in, what actually happens is that kids zone out: something that experts believe interferes with a child’s ability to tune into their own appetite in the long-term. Over and above this, children can actually become too distracted to eat in the moment. I have seen it, first hand, with my own son: he becomes so utterly transfixed by the screen that he is unable to focus on taking another mouthful of food (I’m convinced that if I got all dressed up in a Barney the Dinosaur suit, he wouldn’t even glance my way).

We are human and sometimes we turn to these distractions in sheer desperation but the point is everything in moderation: don’t make a habit of turning on the TV/iPad with every meal. Sit down together for real family interactions during mealtimes, keeping the distractions as the exception rather than the norm.

My two cents:

A simple rule that every parent should remember during mealtimes  – from picky eating experts Katja Rowell and Jenny McGlothlin –  is to take a step back and remember their role: for the parent, it’s deciding when, where and what should be offered. For the child, it’s deciding whether and how much to eat. Pretty simple, no?

*If you are genuinely concerned that your child’s growth and development is suffering as a result of their restrictive diets, speak to your medical practitioner for some guidance.

*The above should never replace the advice of your GP, Paed or Nurse.

fussy eating, Nutrition 101

Top 10 Tips for Dealing With a Fussy Eater

With the holidays as a distant memory and the transition back into the reality of the everyday routine, we are reminded of the myriad of things we find more than a little challenging as parents. Not to mention that with all the beautiful holiday memories, some less wonderful habits may have been picked up by your little angel (let’s just say that my son successfully survived on chips, biscuits and toasted sandwiches for two weeks #motheroftheyear).

Eating habits are no exception here: after a number of days of an interrupted routine and being able to eat all the things that make the lives of us parents easier, it is time to bring on the food that may no longer seem to taste as good.

Thankfully, this resistance may last only a few days while you do everything in your power to find your way back to some kind of normal routine. Now that you have the good news, you need to be prepared for potentially some other hurdles around mealtimes as you strive to get your child into the swing of eating a balanced and nutritious diet (refer back to my last post, which unpacked what this fussy eating business is actually all about).

Here are some tips that will hopefully make your dealings with fussy eating slightly easier in your year ahead, to keep in mind when your little munchkin seems to have their boxing gloves on at mealtimes:

  1. Timing is everything. You need to learn to read your child. Whether or not it is time for a meal according your daily routine, if your child isn’t in the right frame of mind you may as well be taking the nutritious meal you just prepared and throwing it down the toilet. An overtired child and an overly hungry child are both a recipe for disaster. If your child is tired rather push their mealtime out a little later and if your child is starving then give them something small to snack on and keep them busy while you are getting their meal together (I generally opt for something not too filling like a soft cheese wedge, a fresh piece of fruit or some spaghetti noodles to keep my son entertained for a few minutes).
  2. Do not over-react. If you have landed up with some mac and cheese all over your face or poured onto the floor, do not burst into laughter or gasp in horror at the mess on your new carpet. As soon as your child realises that they are going to make you laugh (or be dramatic in any way) when they behave badly, they will associate that bad behaviour with a seemingly positive reaction from you. So resist the urge to burst into laughter, even if you really want to!
  3. There’s no one size fits all. Don’t compare your child to your friend’s kid who eats broccoli by the kilo, or the child who eats ‘absolutely anything’ from your playgroup. Every child is different, with their own likes and dislikes. Your child is a little individual, so throw out the comparisons and the benchmarks and set your own.
  4. Give them freedom of choice. That’s not to say making a different dish every time they turn their nose up at a meal, but rather asking them to choose some elements around their meal time to get them involved i.e.: chicken or beef; a red bib or a blue bib; their yellow feeding spoon or the purple one; banana or pear for dessert etc.
  5. Make mealtimes fun! Get your child involved in the process of picking out ingredients, to preparing and then serving up the food. If they are still too young to get involved, talk them through everything you are doing to create the most delicious meal possible for them. Adding different toppings to meals (like pizzas, yoghurt, porridge or rice cakes) can also be a fun activity.
  6. Make storytelling a part of your mealtime conversation. By telling your little one animated and excited  stories about where a particular food comes from or the types of animals that eat that food, you are going to get them interested in something that previously received the cold shoulder.
  7. Make the benefits known. Explain to them that they need a variety of foods to help them grow and get strong. Don’t hold back on telling them all about specific health benefits that different foods are able to give to them i.e.: yummy orange full of vitamins/delicious yoghurt for strong bones and teeth.
  8. Don’t force the issue. If the meal you have lovingly prepared has landed up in smithereens on the floor or your child just seems to be impossible to please, never feel as though you need to force them into eating a meal. Mealtime should never become a battle field. You want your child to associate a happy and relaxed occasion with all mealtimes.
  9. Don’t underestimate the power of praise. If your child branched out and ate some of the broccoli medley you put on her plate or ate an entire bowl of spaghetti bolognese with gusto, tell her how clever she is. You want your child to have positive associations with eating, so that they remember these positive feelings the next time they sit down to a meal.
  10. Don’t throw in the towel so easily. Experts have recommended that a child should be exposed to a new food at least ten times before it is ‘liked’ by them. If your little one isn’t keen the first time you give him something, don’t let that stop you from trying again. Children need to be exposed to as many foods as possible and the younger the are when you do it, the better! Us parents are quick to say that our children ‘aren’t into something’ after one or two attempts that didn’t go the way we had imagined. We need to be tencious and mindful simultaneously by offering a specific type of food at just the right time – you will probably be surprised.

*The above information should never replace the advice of your GP, paed or nurse.

fussy eating, Nutrition 101

Fussy Eating 101

A fussy eater is something that mommies talk about and the thing that you think your little munchkin will never become. You feel momentarily ‘lucky’ that your child seems to be lapping up every morsel of food placed in front of him, delighting in their equally adventurous and ravenous mealtime behaviour. I was this mom. I thought I had an ‘adventurous eater’… until my son turned one.

Upon hitting the twelve month mark my son discovered a newfound sense of independence and with that came a more discerning little palate: one that wouldn’t hold back on telling me what he did and didn’t like. I realised this ‘fussy eating’ business could, in fact, be a real thing and not something made-up by paranoid mamas all over the world.

Now, us moms love to stick labels onto things. Fussy eating is one of those labels and for the most part may mean a host of different things for different kids – a child starting out on solids may simply be a little overwhelmed when faced with new tastes and textures, another child may just have been through a growth spurt and is now showing less of an interest in eating than she previously did, a child older than one may just be too preoccupied with walking and exploring to be consumed with eating every crumb on her plate – very different behaviour, all with the same ‘fussy eating’ label. According to experts, we need to remember that children will go through different phases throughout their lives, all of which are likely to, in some way, impact their appetite and preferences.

According to a study published by the journal Appetite in 2016, children enter their fussiest phase of eating from the age of two, with their pickiness declining by the age of six. Although there has been speculation that fussy eating may be a genetic predisposition, what is more widely accepted is that fussy eating is actually down to the personality of your child: parents can raise two children in exactly the same environment, feeding them the same meals, and one child may turn into a much fussier eater than the other.

So what exactly defines a ‘fussy eater’ and how do you deal with one? According to Bridget Swinney, author of Baby Bites, there are a number of notorious behaviours around fussy eating:

Your child is a ‘food purist’

This is when your child reacts badly to one food touching another. This is an easy one to fix: simply use a plate or bowl with separations/divides. This may even extend to not tolerating different foods that have been cooked together, in which case you may be better of blending foods together so that the culprit foods can’t be identified. Both of these, however, are short-term fixes because your little one will need to get used to eating mixed foods at some point.

 Your child only wants one food, days on end

We hear about this type of behaviour all the time: “My child will only eat chicken nuggets and chips” or “My child will only eat cereal” or something else along those lines. It is a common behaviour as your child becomes a toddler and the good news is that your child most likely won’t grow into a 40-year-old adult that refuses to eat anything other than chicken nuggets shaped like dinosours. You can strategically expose them to other foods by placing nutritious options into whatever they are eating: if they will only eat chips with their chicken nuggets then try oven-baked sweet potato chips dipped in hummus instead of their regular fried chips or add blueberries and a teaspoon of yoghurt into their oats. Whatever you do, you need to persevere in getting them to try other foods if you want them to get the most optimal nutrition and sustenance from their diets.

Your child is ‘allergic’ to green

This is something else that is likely to be short-lived and it isn’t something to panic about. It isn’t uncommon for kids (or my husband!) to insist that they will only eat meat and potatoes without a green object in sight. There are a number other veggies that aren’t green and are high in nutritional value: red and orange fruits and veggies are a fantastic source of beta-carotene and they are crammed with antioxidants. Having said that, don’t give up on the greens! Most green vegetables are packed with iron, calcium and antioxidants and little developing systems need them to thrive. Get smart (and a little sneaky) by adding in the greens (or any veggies for that matter) wherever you can: blend spinach in with a stew, sneak peas into cottage pie or add finely diced broccoli to Bolognese sauce. Then, lean back and smile when they tuck into their homemade meal packed with extra goodness!

Your child likes all foods smooth

Sensory children may have a texture aversion because everything they experience is magnified or you may simply have a kid that just doesn’t like lumpy food. Either way, do not spend the rest of your days pureeing everything into a silky smooth consistency. Keep adding a variety of textures wherever you can: rice cakes dipped into smooth cottage cheese, grated cheese and croutons sprinkled over soup or chopped berries and seeds sprinkled into yoghurt. It is important for children to be exposed to different textures and by giving them smooth meals day-in and day-out, means stunting their development.

Your child only wants food that is one colour

Giving into this will only mean making life difficult for yourself and will limit your child’s exposure to a number of nutritionally beneficial foods. Get them excited about trying foods that are the same colours of things that they love (red strawberries to match their new red truck or green apples to match their favourite green shoes) and get them involved in selecting and preparing foods that are all the colours of the rainbow.

Your child rejects strong smelling food

If your little one sticks her nose up at the anchovy toast fingers you dished up for breakfast or turns away from the grilled fish dish you lovingly prepared for supper, you need to show them that sometimes ‘bad’ smelling food can actually be very delicious. Show them that mommy and daddy don’t mind eating different ‘smelly’ foods and that they don’t mind smelling them either.

Your child hates herbs and spices

Start with the milder herbs and spices that aren’t over-powering and only cook with a little at a time. If your child has been exposed to a number of herbs and spices over time and still refuses to eat them, then go back to basics by introducing one at a time: they may find too many flavours and tastes difficult to process and you need to ‘hold their hand’ as you expose them to a variety of these tastes once more.

My two cents:

Fussy eating evolves into exactly what you allow it to become.

The trick is not to throw in the towel upon the first sign of difficult behaviour. If your child won’t eat the meal you have given to him, don’t jump immediately to make him something else. You need to deal with fussy eating in the right way if you want to get your child out of bad habits early on. Sometimes it is easier for parents to give-in because we just don’t feel like the fight, but we aren’t doing our little people (and most certainly not ourselves) any favours.

The sooner they realise that mom or dad will give-in at the first sign of a protest, the easier it will be to get exactly what they want. The longer you cater to your child’s every whim, the more difficult they will become. It is that simple.

By the same token, we need to also remember that our kids are little humans, with their own likes and dislikes. Just as adults have preferences and things that we detest, so do they. As parents, we need to be mindful of our own child’s personality and learn the difference between an actual food aversion and when they are simply exercising some self-control. By doing so, you will pave the way for mindful parenting and happy (and hopefully fuss-free!) mealtimes in your home.

For more on fussy eating check out Top 10 Tips for Dealing with a Fussy Eater and Mindful Parenting & Fussy Eating.

*The above advice should never replace the advice of your paediatrician or nurse.

* If you are worried about your child not getting adequate nutrition, or have seen any developmental concerns, consult your doctor/paediatrician immediately.