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.