If a fussy eating toddler is making mealtimes a nightmare in your family, rest assured you are not alone. Researchers suggest that problems related to child feeding are extremely common. Whilst ‘picky eaters’ are frustrating and stressful to deal with, in the short term it is unlikely to cause health problems. However, longer-term a poor diet with limited foods being eaten can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Perhaps more significant and difficult to reverse is the psychological wellbeing of both child and parent after months (sometimes even years!) of mealtime battles.
Despite parents good intentions, long term pressure to eat certain foods (usually fruits and vegetables), excessive restriction of sweet and high-fat foods (known to be the foods children naturally prefer regardless of where in world they are); and using food as a reward, have all been found in studies to lead to the exact reverse of what we as parents want – kids that won’t eat fruits & vegetables but will never turn down a cake, toast, chocolate or biscuits!
So what can you do as a parent if this sounds like your toddler?
Its good to remember that fussy eating is not always just about the food but also your toddlers need for independence. Mealtimes can become a battle of wills! The biggest challenge parents of fussy eaters face is the ability to remain relaxed and calm and make mealtimes fun, when in reality you are constantly worrying about whether they’re eating sufficiently, probably feel frustrated and annoyed about wasting time preparing another failed meal and generally at your wits end!
Here are some tips to help you move towards a happier dining table!
Give them some independence. Whilst you are ultimately in charge of what they eat, there are ways to let them feel in control:
Placing food on the table in bowls, allowing them to serve themselves can be surprising successful.
Resist the need to help - just let them get on with it!
Allow them to feed themselves as much as possible with finger foods and cutlery, and try to relax about the mess – it’ll be worth it if they eat….
Get them involved in some simple food preparation.
At lunch let them have a go at spreading cream cheese on toast. At dinner you could let them help chop veggies (mushrooms are a good option with a children's knife) or mash potatoes. Sometimes just letting them sprinkle cheese on top of their meal makes them much more interested in eating it!
Let them 'play' with their food - this is all new to them and they are just exploring this new encounter.
The good news is that it is very rare for eating problems to continue as children get older, especially once they go to school. One day your child is likely to enjoy a whole range of foods, even if it’s very frustrating now!
The golden rule is to relax and try not to worry or be visibly annoyed to defuse those mealtimes battles! However, if you'd like advice on fussy eating and sometimes it is helpful to have an outsider's perspective on mealtime interactions, then I am available for consultations to discuss in detail your child's eating or to arrange a home visit, perhaps over a mealtime to give you some guidance. For further information see children's nutrition.
I also run Foodie Tots, a pre-schoolers class to encourage children to explore foods away from mealtimes.
For more information visit www.foodietots.co.uk.