Whenever a mum asks me a question on a particular subject, I can guarantee I’ll get asked the same thing again by at least two other mums in a matter of days. I’m sure there must be some phenomenological name for it (let me know if there is!) but what it does tell me is that although you can often feel like you’re the only person struggling on with a difficult child-related issue, you’re not, and that there are many other parents out there struggling too.
This week the questions were mostly around fussy eating as mums talked to me about the struggle they were having with their little one and the battle of wills they’d been having at mealtimes. They described a baby who once ate everything they gave to them as suddenly deciding to throw their food to the floor (apart from some fruits or biscuits of course) and refusing to eat what’s in front of them, particularly vegetables!
Of course it’s a huge worry for parents, you want to make sure your child’s nutritional needs are being met. And I’ll be frank, fussy eating is definitely a difficult one to deal with but there are things you can do to make it easier and having a little understanding of why your child might be behaving in this way can really help you to understand them.
It’s a normal part of a child’s development at around 18-24 months (sometimes earlier), for them to develop a fear of new or unfamiliar foods which is thought to be a survival mechanism for the increasingly mobile toddler to prevent them from poisoning themselves from putting anything and everything into their mouth. Some toddlers experience this developmental stage more than others leading to them only eating certain foods but in their mind, it’s only sensible to reject foods they don’t like the look of or are unfamiliar as they might be poisonous! But for you it’s an absolute frustration that they won’t touch the chicken casserole you lovingly prepared for three hours.
So what can you do? As I explained to the mums earlier on this week, fussy eating can take a while to resolve which is really difficult for parents to deal with but as it can take more than ten times of tasting a food for a child to like it, then the improvements aren’t going to happen overnight. In the meantime, consider the following points that will help things to go more smoothly.
· The simplest yet most difficult thing you can do is to remove the stress from the situation. Easy for me to say I know but if you start to dread mealtimes then your child will respond to your emotions and will start to dread it too then it becomes a vicious circle. Take a step back from the situation and have a think about:
· How much you’re giving your child. Could you be setting yourselves up for a fall by overestimating how much your child actually needs? They might be eating enough but if you’ve filled their bowl to the top, then it can seem like they haven’t touched it so check your portion sizes. Check out The Infant Toddler Forum which has great resources about food groups, how much toddlers need from each and how big portion sizes should be.
· Be responsive to your child’s hunger and fullness cues. From as early as a few weeks after being born, children can regulate their appetite to meet their growth needs. This means that most toddlers will be hungry only for the amount of food that they need to eat. They are better at knowing how much they need to eat than their parents are. Pushing the spoon away, fussing, crying, getting bored are all cues to tell you they’ve had enough, get to know your child’s.
· Make mealtimes a social occasion and eat together as a family when you can. Babies learn by copying you (‘modelling’) so let them see you eating the food you’re giving them and enjoying it – lots of over-the-top ‘mmm’s’ and ‘yummy’ and smiley faces! Avoid force-feeding or creating negative attention which will add to the stress. Chat amongst yourselves and don’t focus on your child not eating during the meal.
· Not all parents work Monday-Friday, 9-5 and have the tea on the table at 5.30, so is it easier to eat together at breakfast? What about the weekends? It doesn’t have to be all meals, just at a regular time and day that suits your family and routine so your child begins to understand what is expected of them.
If the fussy eating continues for a prolonged period of time, do seek medical advice via your GP or Health Visitor, it’s always best to check there are no underlying health issues causing loss of appetite as this may affect your child’s growth and development.
But for most toddlers, fussy eating is a stage that they will grow out of and being persistent and consistent with how you deal with it will help.
For parents with younger babies who are approaching the starting solids journey, I’m running my First Tastes Workshop that will help you to feel more confident about what to do and meeting with other parents will also help you to see you’re not alone with the worries you’re having. I’ll also be talking about how to deal with fussy eating as your child gets older.
Doors open to book on the workshop on Tuesday 28thMay, there’s only 8 places available so please contact me here if you’d like to reserve yours.
If you’d like more information about how I can help you resolve your toddler’s fussy eating on a 1-1 basis and begin to enjoy mealtimes again, then please contact me to arrange a free 15 minute chat or follow this link to find out more about the services I provide for parents.