Ten tips for feeding a fussy eater

Posted by iChild, July 11, 2018 10:30 AM

By Clare's Little Tots

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Fussy eaters; if you’re a parent or a carer it’s likely that you have, or have had. a fussy eater on your hands. Fussy eating is often one of the hardest challenges to face as it’s not always a quick fix or short lived phase and you’re often in it for the long haul.

Not being in control is probably the biggest reasons I see for fussy eating. We decide so much for our children, where they go, what they'll wear, who they will see, when they will eat and what. One of the things we can't do is actually make them eat it. A toddler knows this and food refusal is a great way for them to show they are in control when they reach that lovely age of wanting to assert their independence (terribles twos or threenagers anyone?).

As a mum of two and childminder I’ve cared for a few fussy eaters before so here are my top 10 tips for helping you ride out the picky eating roller coaster.

Relax

Easier said than done, I know, but chances are you could be in this for the long run and babies and toddlers pick up on stress. It can be extremely stressful and worrying when your child doesn't eat the beautiful home-cooked meals you've prepared, but hang in there, because "...this too shall pass".

Include them in meal planning

If your child is old enough, sit down together once a week and ask them what they’d like to eat. You never know they might surprise you with their choices. If they don’t have the language to communicate this yet maybe show them some pictures of meals and get them to point at the ones they’d like.

Bake together

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Get training that next master chef in the making and head to the kitchen for some fun. The mess is always inevitable but you may be surprised by what they will eat if they’ve prepared it themselves. One of my favourite ways to involve the children with cooking is make your own pizzas or pasta bowls. Grab your pizza base (we love using wraps or pitta breads), get the kids to squeeze on tomato puree and spread. Then let them choose from a selection of toppings already set out in little bowls.

There’s more ideas for cooking with kids on my blogs, some of my little ones are now master chefs and love to mix and roll.

Take them shopping

Taking your little ones shopping and getting them to pick out some items to put in the trolley to make meals with is another way to give back that control. You might even be able to convince them to pick out something new to try and have lots of fun making and tasting it together when you get home.

Setting the table

Have you ever placed a lovingly cooked meal in front of your child only for them to break down in uncontrollable floods of tears because it's on the green plate and not the blue plate? The colour of plate or cup we use might not seem important to us but making sure your tea is served on your favourite colour plate can mean the difference between eating it and not eating it when you're two years old.

Food

Portion sizes

The amount of food babies, toddlers and preschoolers need is often a lot less than we think. Putting large portions of food on a plate can be really overwhelming for small children, especially if it’s something they don’t like.

Aim for small portions and try to include something you know they’ll eat along with a small table spoon of something they don’t. Eighteen months ago my youngest decided to stop eating all vegetables. I still always add a tiny amount of vegetables to his plate and last month out of of nowhere he picked up a carrot and ate it…he now loves them!

Controlled Choice

This is probably one of my favourite ways to let toddlers think they’re in control. Give them a choice such as “would you like peas or beans with your tea?” or “would you like an apple or banana with your lunch?”. By offering them the choice they feel like the control is totally in their hands and are more likely to eat what you’ve given them.

Let them play with their food!

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OK, I know many of you won't agree with me on this one, but trust me, letting babies get accustomed to the way food feels is a great way to ensure they aren't freaked out by it. Food feels different to anything else they touch. Food can feel hot, cold, slimy, soft, wet, squishy, crunchy.

This is why I love Baby Led Weaning as they become accustomed to the texture of food from the start. I cared for one child who was spoon-fed from four months old and even when a small bit touched their hand or face it was immediately wiped off. They had never felt the texture of food and so when finger food was offered they refused to touch it as they didn't like the way it felt.

Let them stick their hands in their bowl, squish it between their fingers and eventually they will bring it to their mouth. It's pretty gross to watch sometimes, especially when it starts to get in their hair, ears and all over your floor but it's great for sensory development and encouraging babies to not be fussy.

To snack or not to snack

Probably another one that causes debate is should you let your children snack? Babies and toddlers need to eat little and often so a small snack between main meals is fine, but I find once they reach preschool age snacking between meals often means they aren't hungry when it comes to meal times. However, depending on our day we will sometimes have a snack such as fruit if we’ve had an energetic morning at soft play or out for a walk, but I keep it to a small portion, just enough to keep them going until their next meal.

Constant snacking, though, can often be a big factor in food refusal at meal times. If they’ve just had a snack they either won’t be hungry or know that they’ll soon get another snack after their meal so it doesn’t give them an incentive to eat it.

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Ditch the sugary drinks

Like it or not letting your child fill up on cups of juice/squash is going to affect how hungry they are at mealtimes. I offer water and milk to my own children and the children I care for as this is also what they'll be offered in a nursery setting or at school.

Most importantly remember that fussy eating is a completely normal stage in a child's development. The day Georgia started school she started eating things she completely refused for me and I realised I shouldn’t have wasted so much time worrying about it. WIth Jack I’ve taken a much more laid back approach, he gets offered healthy and nutritious meals three times a day and he either eats it or he doesn't.

iChild Website

You can also find fun activities to encourage children in iChild's Healthy Eating/Living section.

By Clare's Little Tots

(Clare, mum to Georgia, aged 6, and Jack, aged 3. Since 2012 has been an Ofsted registered childminder. 

If you're looking for more recipes for fussy eaters, baby led weaning or fun things to cook with kids you can follow Clare on:
- Facebook
- Twitter
- Instagram
or pop along and check out her blog where, along with recipes, she shares fun crafts and activities for babies though to school age children.

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