Having a child who refuses to eat anything that isn’t beige and covered in breadcrumbs is possibly one of the most stressful periods of parenting. So many things are going on in a parent’s head (or they were in mine):
• Their diet isn’t healthy enough
• Should I be insisting they eat whatever I put in front of them
• I’m so angry that they’re being so ungrateful/that I’ve spent ages cooking and nobody will eat it/ so much food is being wasted.
You’re not alone! Dealing with fussy eating seems to be a rite of passage for most parents, pretty much all of us go through it with our kids and for good reason… it’s completely normal!
So, why, exactly, does an enthusiastic foodie of a toddler suddenly become so damn picky?
- Firstly, toddlers have no pre-conceived ideas about what & how much to eat. They eat intuitively, which means that, if left to their own devices, they would eat when hungry, stop when full. Sometimes they just aren’t hungry when we decide to serve them food and they haven’t yet learned to eat to please someone else or because they’re bored or stressed.
- Children have far more taste buds than adults. So that broccoli may taste way more bitter to them than it does to us. Can you blame them for avoiding it?
- Children eat because they’re growing; they don’t grow because they eat. When you consider that, in the first 4 months of life, a baby uses 27% of what he eats to grow but only 3% in his second year, you can start to see why your toddler seems to be eating far less than he used to.
- Children eat the foods that are familiar to them and their list of safe foods narrows during the toddler years. Neophobia (an active fear of trying new foods) affects most children and usually peaks between 2 and 6 years old.
So, knowing all of this is great, but what can you actually do to navigate this tricky time?
Here are my top 5 tips for coping with fussy eating:
- Allow your child to help themselves from the food on the table. This gives them a sense of control over what they’re eating and helps them to listen to their bodies and recognise when they’re hungry or full.
- Remember that it is your responsibility to offer a range of healthy foods but it is up to your child to choose what and how much they eat. This division of responsibility helps to foster a lifelong healthy relationship with food.
- Keep putting out the foods that they refuse to eat. Remember that familiarity is key, so even if they don’t ever seem to eat the broccoli, having it on the table frequently, means they will be familiar with it and will try it when they’re ready.
- Keep praise and pleading away from the table. Get on with your own meal and let your child get on with hers. Bringing emotion to mealtimes is a recipe for disaster, allow your little one to get on with her meal in her own time and in her own way.
- Don’t rush – give your toddler time to eat but equally, let them leave the table when they’re finished without having to wait for everyone else. It’s very hard for a toddler to sit at a table for a long time!
Controlling what someone else eats is nigh on impossible without causing all sorts of damage to your relationship with them (and their relationship with food). Getting them to help you shop, grow, prepare and cook food and making mealtimes relaxed and easy will lead to a much healthier relationship with food in the long run. You can only really control your own behaviour around food during this tricky period! And remember, the fussiness is normal!
If you’re dying to get inside your little one’s head and really understand what makes them tick, a workshop or consultation could be just the ticket.
Come and join our growing Facebook community or drop me a line, I love to chat.
We hope these tips are useful to all parents, but if you want to go a little further then Lauren runs workshops on a regular basis on various things like behaviour, sleep, eating and weaning. Keep an eye out on her Facebook Page for announcements but the next ones are a Weaning Workshop and a Sleep Workshop that you can book on to now.
Watch out on this website over the next couple of weeks for Lauren’s top tips blogs on Sleep and also on Play!