As a first time parent, you envisage meal times to be a time of family togetherness, talking about your day with your children whilst sharing hearty and wholesome food. However, for many parents it poses a time of stress, negotiations, bribery and begging when your child decides that they are not prepared to eat what is on offer and that the mere sight of a green vegetable on their plate will cause a meltdown.
What is a Fussy Eater?
The term ‘fussy eater’ has always struck me as too tame a phrase when it comes to children refusing to eat certain foods. Frustrating, irrational and awkward are often the words that pop into my head when I have served up a favourite dinner to be met with a look as if a plate of worms has been offered. There seems to be no rational reason behind their decision to refuse their once adored dish, but this behaviour can leave most parents feeling helpless.
When to Expect the Unexpected?
For me as a mother of three, my children were great during the weaning phase. Each spoonful of puréed veg was met with lip-smacking pleasure as my eager eater went about trying all manner of tastes and textures as an alternative to milk. I happily waded through cookery books, spent hours blanching tomatoes and soaking lentils for my willing participant. Then around the age of 2 there was a change, no longer enamoured by my plane/spoon impression and not happy with being confined in a high chair, my little one was more interested in trying to feed their dinner to the dog than to themselves.
Is it Really That Bad?
Many parents will admit to waking up each morning fretting over what to cook that evening for dinner. As a mother of 6-year-old twins, my twin son has a love of all things saturated and I have to breadcrumb any type of fish or chicken so he can dunk it in ketchup, whilst my twin daughter could break a world record for the longest time sat at a table storing food in her cheeks without chewing. I have covered the suggested checklist of ‘shopping together’, ‘baking together’ and ‘teaching them about how lucky they are’, but most mealtimes are still met with disdain and wasted food.
How to Solve Their Lack of Eating?
According to the NHS, you shouldn't worry about what your child eats in a day but to judge what they eat over a week. You should aim to cover the main food groups such as milk and dairy products for calcium, carbohydrates, protein and an abundance of fruit and vegetables for vitamins. It is important to remember that a toddler’s stomach is only on average the size of a fist and they will fill full quite quickly. However, with such a small amount of food needed to sustain them, you will need to find ways to make their meals count. The following techniques can really help:
- Try to eat at a dinner table as a family, not always easy for the working parent but even if once a week your child eats the same dinner as you, it might help them feel less like it’s a punishment.
- Encourage fun food. Not everyone can style sausage and mash into a woodland creature, but even a smiley face with carrots and peas can encourage a little one to eat. My son particularly likes eating ‘the eyes’ for a pretend shocked reaction from me.
- No snacking between meals. The little and often technique is popular with many parents but if you want to stick with three main meals a day, try to limit mid-meal treats. Opt for fruit as an after-school snack and try to stop them from guzzling down their drinks at mealtimes as this can fill them up as well.
There is no magic solution that will make your fussy eater suddenly enjoy food other than an enormous amount of patience and perseverance. My eldest son is 10 and he was a terrible eater when he was a toddler but now, with the added peer pressure of his friends, he will happily wolf down pretty much any meal put in front of him without the need for a mashed potato hedgehog.