Top tips from Parents
Many parents have gone through, or are going through, the same fussy eating phase with their children. Along the way, some useful, practical tips are learnt and we want to pass these on to help others in the same position.
A recent survey showed over a third of parents said they wanted advice from a source they are more able to relate to, such as other parents who have tackled similar issues. One in four parents would like reassurance that they are not alone in tackling fussy eating.1
Here, two parents who have gone through challenges with their little one’s eating habits give their top tips:
Jo Middleton’s 5 top tips
I’ve been a parent now for over 18 years – a scary thought in itself and definitely the longest I have stuck at anything! Over the years I’ve had plenty of experience of fussy eating, from a one-year-old refusing anything but breast milk and small squares of toast and Marmite© through to veganism, vegetarianism, gluten-free, dairy-free – you name it and I’ve probably experienced it.
Along the way I’ve learnt a lot about fussy eating and how to deal with it. One of the most important lessons I have learnt is that it can happen at any age, and isn’t just about toddlers throwing peas on the floor. I’ve also come to realise that, as with most childhood behaviour, it does pass – fussy eating is often just a child experimenting with food and the idea of being in control of their own bodies, and with the right support and enough time they will move on and eat normally.
At the time though it can be worrying – no parent wants to think that their child isn’t eating properly – so here are my five top tips to make periods of fussy eating as stress-free as possible.
- Go with the flow - The important thing is to not turn mealtimes into a battle ground, or to force children to eat things against their will. If children come to associate food with stress or trauma, then eating stops being a positive experience and instead becomes something that they dread. As frustrating as it may be, try to keep your cool and stay positive
- Eat together - One of the key ways that children learn how to behave is by copying you; so always try to eat together as a family rather than sitting kids down on their own for an early tea. Set a good example by maintaining nice table manners, eating a range of foods and, most importantly, enjoying the experience of eating
- Get involved - One very effective way to encourage fussy eaters to eat a wider variety of foods is to involve them in the cooking process. Work together to choose a recipe, shop for ingredients and prepare a meal and they will feel much more invested in the end result
- Set a time limit - If meals in your house tend to drag and you end up all watching one child eat at the rate of one pea per minute, then just set a time limit. I’m not saying you need to rush everyone, but just make it clear that dinner time lasts for a given length of time – say 30-40 minutes – and that’s that. It’s not something you need to do in an aggressive way, it’s just a fact
- Adjust portion sizes - If your child seems daunted by a big plate of food or pile of carrots, then adjust your portion sizes to make them seem less intimidating. If they are trying something new, just add a small amount to their plate initially and gradually build it up. Quick tip - giving them a big plate rather than a child sized one can make a normal sized portion look smaller!
As the popular saying goes, ‘this too shall pass’. In my experience children go through all kinds of phases of fussy eating; but if you can stay calm and continue to eat well as a family, then it will get better.
Sally Whittle’s dos and don’ts
I am Sally, ‘Who’s the Mummy’ blogger and writer, based in Lancashire. I’ve been referred to as a control freak, but honestly, I have no idea where such outlandish notions might come from. Doesn’t everyone alphabetise their spice rack?
‘Who’s the Mummy’ is a blog about me and my fantastic daughter. Our blog is a record of the things we do, and the fun we have together. There are a few things you should really know about us:
- We don’t cook. Except with (unintended) comedy effects
- We like swimming, beaches and travelling, but we are not keen on early mornings and pink
- Our family motto is “It’s fun to have fun, but you have to know how”. We tried “dignity at all times” but honestly? It wasn’t a good fit
When I’m not blogging, I am the founder of the Tots100 community of UK parent bloggers (5,000 members and counting) along with the Foodies100 and the MAD Blog Awards (Mum and Dad blog awards). I eat, sleep and breathe blogging.
- Don't fight over food. If your child doesn't want to eat something, then calmly take the food away, and try again at the next meal
- Offer a limited choice. We all have preferences and days when we just don't "fancy" something. Offer your child two choices of meal before you cook
- Don't panic. It's easy to think a child who has skipped a meal will starve unless you give them a snack, but the longer it goes on, the less likely your child will be to refuse foods at meal times
- Don't obsess over every mouthful. It's easy, when you're worried about a child's eating, to make every meal time ALL about them and their food. Rather than cajoling, nagging and praising, make meal times a time when you chat about anything else other than the food – toddlers love to perform if they think they have an audience!
- Keep meal times short and fun. Nothing is more likely to make everyone feel negative about food than sitting at a table for two hours with a child who doesn't really want to eat what's in front of them
So many kinds of fussy, Toddy Peters
By Ms Toddy Peters, mum of three from North London, www.creditcrunchkitchen.blogspot.co.uk
As a reformed problem eater, and having seen a LOT of food issues in the kids in my family as I grew up, I always resolved that I would do my best to make sure my own kids were as unfussy as possible. Of course that’s very easy to say before you have kids, but much harder to ensure once they arrive!
Somehow, however, I have been pretty lucky, and my three kids are actually quite a delight to feed and are quite interested in food too. It hasn’t always been plain sailing, though, and they’ve all gone through phases of being so slow I could cry with frustration, (my younger daughter once took seven minutes to chew one mouthful of food!!) and phases of eating such tiny amounts that one can’t imagine how they could possibly survive. They also all have quite opposing preferences, with one who says fish makes her sick, but loves seafood; and another who won’t even touch seafood, but enjoys fish, and the youngest changing his preferences daily! I’ve had to learn to be patient and creative, and even slightly deceptive (courgette muffins – known as “swamp cakes” - anyone?) but I’ve found it is possible for kids to enjoy a wide variety of foods, and even to be adventurous with flavours as long as you have a positive attitude about food yourself.
At the weekly church playgroup I run, I am often asked for advice on encouraging reluctant eaters, and I always advocate taking a relaxed attitude. One of my favourite tips is to use an ice-cube tray and fill each section with a teaspoon of a different finger food, making them as varied and colourful as possible. I’ve used dry cereal, raw or steamed veggies, fruits, cubes of cheese, mini meatballs, mini crackers, oatcakes, bread sticks, and so on. Not only does this approach make the meal more appealing, it helps encourage the little one to try new things, with less pressure to eat too large an amount, and broadens their appetite for new flavours and textures. My two younger kids still enjoy a similar dish (on a slightly larger scale) at lunchtime, which we call a “monkey plate”.
As many articles tell you, children may need to be offered a new food 8-10 times before they will even try it, so don’t take no for an absolute, but equally, I don’t apply pressure, as a casual attitude is less threatening for a child. It is also important to look at their total nutrition over a day or even a week, it usually balances out!
I also encourage parents to try to get kids involved whenever possible. Podding peas, tearing lettuce, and other prep tasks are great fun; but even using foods like chapattis or tacos or having an indoor picnic gives them an opportunity to put together their own food, and gives a great sense of achievement which makes mealtimes fun for everyone!
Modern Mummy's tips for fussy eaters, Katy Dial
By Katy Dial, www.modernmummy.co.uk
I’m a mum to two girls, aged four and a half and one year and eight months. I’m passionate about eating well and I encourage my children to eat the same foods as me. I have one rule that I insist on following - the girls must try everything at least once!
I have experienced phases of fussy eating with both of my daughters. Thankfully, we seem to be coming to the end of our fussy eating days and both girls enjoy a healthy and varied diet - but that wasn’t always the case!
Based on advice from my health visitor, I weaned my eldest very young and from day one she ate everything we offered. There wasn’t a single food she turned her nose up at and, within a short space of time, she was eating the same foods as my husband and I, no matter how spicy!
Her fussy eating phase came after she turned two, when she mastered the English language, suddenly realising she could say “no” to most things. She would refuse the foods she’d previously loved, eating the tiniest portions. I was a nervous wreck. The amount of food I wasted trying to get her to eat was criminal! There were a couple of meals that she was guaranteed to eat, and in the end I found myself cooking them over and over again, so I knew that she wasn’t going to bed with an empty tummy.
It wasn’t until I finally listened to the advice from my family and friends who said I should relax about the situation that my daughter was able to relax too. I reintroduced new foods into her diet and didn’t stress when she refused to eat. Her fussy eating stage seemed to pass. Simple as that.
My youngest made it clear that she didn’t like certain foods from fairly early on but being so much calmer second time around I’ve just accepted that that’s normal; we don’t all like the same things. We still have mealtimes where she doesn’t eat as much but as a rule she is happy to try new things, especially things she sees her parents or big sister eating! I know she’s still young, and there’s a good chance she’ll go through another fussy stage - but I’m ready for it.
So based, on my experience, here are my top tips for dealing with fussy eaters:
Involve children in food preparation
From shopping to cooking…get your children involved in the whole process. Let them choose ingredients, give them options, make meals together and eat together too. It’s great for them to know what they’re eating. If they’ve made it themselves I always find my girls are desperate to try it!
My girls claim not to like some fruits and vegetables but I blitz hundreds of them into pasta sauces, soups, juices and smoothies so that I know they’re getting their five a day.
Look at portion sizes
Don’t overfill a plate; a huge portion can be daunting for a child - they can always go back for seconds (and sometimes even thirds!)
Make mealtimes a relaxed affair
Let your children take their time to eat. Both of mine can take up to 40 minutes to finish a meal. Don’t rush them just because you’re a fast eater.
SO many people will tell you this and it’s true: your child will eat when he or she is hungry! Keep offering and they will eat when they want to.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Abbott Nutrition.
My children will never be fussy eaters, Nikki Thomas
By Nikki Thomas, www.stressymummy.com
My children will never be fussy eaters. I remember saying that when my second son was a toddler and I was confident that it would never happen. I had experienced my nephew’s refusal to eat everything and I remember shaking my head with disapproval as everyone rushed around trying to get him to eat something. Little did I know.
Eight years on and we have been through varying degrees of fussy eating and survived but my daughter decided that she would be the one. She really was. From the age of two, she would not eat anything that she didn’t like the look of. Mealtimes became a battle of wills; her fierce determination not to eat the food in front of her and mine that she would or she would starve.
You tell yourself that it is a phase and it will pass, you tell yourself not to worry about it, you spend many hours wondering about what to do and then you worry. I worried that her insistence that all fruit and vegetables were evil would have an adverse effect on her health. I worried that by refusing to make her something different to eat, she would lose weight and become ill.
In the end, I took to the internet for advice. I scoured blogs and parenting forums and found that this was such a common issue and I was not alone. I stopped worrying and relaxed, realising that my stress was probably making things much worse. We made a personalised reward chart to try and encourage my daughter with flower stickers for each meal that some food was eaten.
She loved the stickers and loved the relaxed mummy at meal times even more. We made silly pictures with our food and used shaped cutters too. Cuddles and applause were given when she tried something new. Slowly but surely, we made progress. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen.
Two years later and my daughter eats really well. She is still not keen on vegetables, but she does eat some and will try new ones. She eats a lot of fruit and she understands that if she doesn’t eat at least some of her dinner, there will be no pudding and this is usually encouragement enough to get her to eat a little more.
The best advice that anyone ever gave me was to relax, not to sit and watch them eating, to ignore any negative comments and give gentle encouragement when needed. Sometimes, she would walk away and I would leave the food there for a while and she would come back to it and have another try. Sometimes, they are simply not hungry.
Making food fun definitely helps too; making pictures and patterns, getting them to help prepare the food and making mealtimes happy and relaxed can stop the dread that both you and your child might feel. Enjoy it and maybe your child will too.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Abbott Nutrition.
If you have any concerns, please discuss these with your healthcare professional.
- Data on file. Abbott Laboratories Ltd., 2015 (Parent survey: fussy eaters)