Sometimes as a parent, you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Your toddler suddenly turns up their nose to a meal that was their favorite last week.
The frustration reaches boiling point when you here the dreaded words ‘I don’t like it’, or you get the shaking of the head, or the plate being pushed away, or the food being thrown on the floor.
It’s quite amazing the willpower and stubbornness a toddler can display at mealtime and as a parent it can leave you feeling frustrated, powerless and deflated.
But it is important to know that most often this just a phase.
It will pass.
So take a deep breath, stay relaxed and use some of the below tips to manage your fussy eater:
- Use a poker face. As infuriating as it can be, hide your frustrations. An important part of managing fussy eating behaviour is to make mealtimes as calm and relaxed as possible. Lower the stress, the anxiety and keep your emotions in check. Create the calm environment in which your children can learn about, explore and try the meal.
- Reinforce good behaviour. Praise your children when they try something new. We all react well to positive reinforcement and kids are no different, it will encourage them to try new things and reinforce the good behaviour.
- Don’t force, bribe or trick. We have all heard sayings like “if you eat all your dinner you can have dessert”. This is not recommended as it puts the bribe option on a pedestal, it’s the more sought after food, which in turn places a negative connotation on the first option (usually the more nutritious food). Bribes or ‘tricking’ (e.g. Here comes the airplane!!) also do not allow for kids to recognise their in-built fullness cues. This can lead to overeating and negatively impact future eating behaviours.
- Keep offering and introducing new foods. Having your baby or toddler reject a new food can be very frustrating, but it is important to keep persisting. It has been shown that it can take up to 10-20 exposures before they decide to try the food.
When repeatedly offering the new foods, mix it up and prepare the same food different ways. There are many ways to prepare foods differently, this could be in the form of different colours, shapes or textures. An example of this is when you introduce eggs you could offer fried eggs cut into strips, scrambled eggs, egg muffins or hard boiled eggs. Get creative, you never know what your child might try.
- Make nutritious food fun and interactive. When preparing meals there are many things that even a young toddler can help with. Stirring ingredients, cracking and scrambling eggs, tossing a salad, tenderising meat, picking herbs from the garden to add to the meal and putting vegetables on their own plate can help with fussy eaters. Being involved with the process is fun, educational and often helps kids to try what they made.
- Ask for input. This can be a simple way to have a breakthrough. The fussy eater becomes more receptive to trying new things as it gives them the chance to feel a little more ‘in charge’ and a part of the process. Simple ways to ask for input include:
- I’m going to the shops; is there anything you want me to add to the list this week?
- I’m going to the shops; can you draw some of the things that we should get for dinner?
- I’m out of ideas for dinner, is there anything that you think we should have?
- Have a look through this cookbook (or magazine) is there anything in here that you think we should try make?
- Look at these vegetables, are there any new ones that you think we should buy and try?
- Make mealtimes calm and relaxed (as possible). An important part of managing fussy eating behaviour is to make mealtimes as calm and relaxed as possible so your baby/toddler/child can focus on the task at hand. Some ways you might be able to do this include:
- Being prepared. Planning ahead allows you to have the food ready to go, you know what to prepare and you can serve the meal on time so there isn’t a mad rush come meal time. A flustered parent will lead to a flustered child
- Serve dinner at an early time so that your child isn’t starving, tired and emotional when it’s time to eat
- Where possible, eat as a family or just sit down with your child while they are eating. Let them model good behaviour and praise them for their good efforts
- Limit all distractions at meal times (including TV, iPads, toys etc.) and spend the time talking and connecting as a family
- Serve tiny portions of the new food. Two peas, or a teaspoon of couscous – a small serve means a small serve. By doing this you won’t overwhelm your child and it can help to give them confidence as it is only a small amount to try.
- Serve a new food with a safe food. Always serve the new food with a trusted favourite. This way they will be confident to eat the trusted food and they might lower their guard to try the new one. Even if they turn down the new food you know they will more than likely still eat during mealtime.
- Section off the different foods on the plate. It may seem trivial, but I can assure you that it makes a difference. Make sure the new food isn’t touching by splitting the new foods and the trusted favourites. The foods that are touching can make your child uncomfortable and suddenly dislike their usual favourite. Let them look at the new food, touch it, take it all in and decide whether they want to eat it or not.
Need more help with your toddlers nutrition? Get in touch today to see how we can help you.