Let’s talk fussy eating!
This topic crops up in the comments on my blog (Meals for Mini Mouths on Instagram) and everywhere I look; the most important thing for you all to know is, it’s so common and 100% normal. Don’t panic: it’s not your fault, there is nothing wrong with your cooking, nothing to do with you not having offered enough variety early on and at any stage.
It’s simply down to your baby/toddler and their age and stage in development.
I know how hard it can be when it feels like every other parents’ child around you is eating everything and anything and yours is living off a reduced diet of pasta, fruit, Pom bears & raisins! But trust me they all do it.
Around the ages of 12months – 18months (loosely) children go through huge developmental changes. During this time, their taste buds change massively, meaning foods they once loved, they will begin to refuse, even gag on or spit out! Their growing bodies start to need different sources of nutrition and they become more physical, be it learning to crawl, walk, and run. You’ll most likely notice that foods within the carbohydrates range are what your child craves and eats more than any other food source. This is because carbs are a great source of energy and we all know how energetic growing/thriving toddlers can be!
They also start to test/discover boundaries and become more independent. With food being a huge part of their lives, it’s only natural that they attempt to push and discover boundaries around the topic, equally finding independence in eating.
I have found that BLW’ed babies tend not to need to discover independence with food, as it’s something they’ve developed from day 1 of weaning. However, they could be wanting to move onto cutlery, using an open top cup, moving on from their highchair to a booster at the table where the rest of the family eat etc. So watch out for those signals from your child.
We moved our toddler, Ewan, onto a booster around 14months old, because he began to ‘mess’ around in his highchair and refused to eat. He wanted the independence of sitting like the rest of us at mealtimes.
So when you break it down and put logic behind their fussiness, it leaves you feeling less guilty and removes those feelings that you’re failing. Because you are not.
Dealing with fussy eating
I’m talking from experience here having dealt with fussy eating twice before. These methods may not work for you, but this is what I've noticed.
The first time round with our daughter, I read books, Googled various methods, spoke to a nutritionist and spent so much time worrying and fretting about her lack of eating a varied diet. We tried every possible trick out there to coax her into eating meals, drawing so much attention to her refusal to eat. It didn’t work, she still refused food which left us all feeling stressed.
Then Ewan came along, and because of the research I’d done the first time around I knew it was coming. We bumbled through the first months of weaning without a glitch, it was great he wasn’t fussy at all. His only dislike was meat, something he has consistently disliked. Then he turned 18months old and it hit hard.
We didn’t panic or stress, or draw attention to it, we just began to offer him foods he liked alongside foods he was refusing. This seemed to be the best happy medium. He would always eat the foods he liked and simply refused to even touch the other side of his plate. I would just take the plate away and say, ‘Good boy for eating’.
He got down to a diet of around 20 foods he would eat. I stayed calm and didn’t let it phase me. I kept up with the offering foods he liked/with foods he didn’t. I also offered him a vitamin supplement during these months, just to put my mind at rest. I also made sure he kept up with fluids, water & milk. Luckily the 20 foods he would eat were all healthy, so I didn’t mind him eating them in large repetitive quantities. He carried on eating this way right up until the age of 2years. We paid it no attention and every mealtime he would be offered half a plate of the foods he liked, and the other half was the meal the rest of us were eating.
Eventually he began to put food from the refused side onto his fork; that’s when we kicked in with praise and encouragement. I’ll never forget the day he ate sausage for the first time after refusing to eat it for almost 6 months!! Sausage now happens to be one of his favourite foods. Eventually he began to try foods from the refused side at each mealtime, and we would clap and cheer him for his efforts, spurring him on to keep it up. He is 3 now and back to eating/trying all foods. It's fantastic, and his palate is incredible for his age.
Our daughter is aged 11years and equally has a growing palate and will try almost anything offered now. Due to all the attention we gave her refusal to eat for those years, it took her until around age 8-9yrs before she would try new foods and widen her palate.
I think the best line I was ever told surrounding fussy eating was that ‘a child will never starve themselves; they don’t have the mind-set to allow this to happen.’
With this in mind, I felt confident to allow Ewan to eat the way he did for so long. If and when he was hungry, I knew he would eat. I also stopped all snacks. Actually this is something we have kept up; none of us snack between meals meaning that when we get to a mealtime, inevitably we are all hungry and ready to eat.
Eating as a family is such an important part of a child’s development, not just for table manners and cutlery skills. But if children are seeing the whole family eating the same foods, at the same time, it’s more likely they will want to copy. Also eating as a family allows children to be focused on other things, rather then what is served on their plate. Making small conversation with them at mealtimes, offers a great distraction and leaves them no chance to refuse the foods.
Getting your children involved in the cooking is a great way to help conquer their food fears. Right from a baby you can get them involved. It’s inevitable there will be mess and most of the time they will not really be ‘helping’ you at all. However, It’s such a great way for them to overcome food fear. Being able to explore the foods you’re offering, seeing how they are cooked, discussing where they’ve come from and how they’ve been made, helps a child to gain knowledge in the foods they eat and makes them feel more confident that they’re actually ok to eat. Letting them touch the foods, eat raw, chop them up, wash them, stir the pot, sieve ingredients, grate, all of which they love to do. Cerys & Ewan get such a sense of pride when we sit down to eat a meal they’ve helped to prepare. They equally love washing up. As a baby Roo is yet to help me in the kitchen, but he will often play with kitchen utensils and foods whilst I prep food. For example, I’ll offer him a saucepan and some potatoes, he will sit and put them in and out of the saucepan, pick them up, put them into his mouth, roll them and generally explore them.
I hope this information will help some of you. Written down it all seems so simple. But I’m 100% with the rest of you: fussy eating is awful, and literally gives you sleepless nights, tears and a headache. It makes you feel dreadful and worst of all like you’re doing something wrong. All children develop at different stages so just because you know another child the same age to yours, eating a varied diet doesn’t mean they haven’t been through it or won’t go through it. Just continue to persevere through the months/years of fussy eating, continue to offer variety, and don’t draw too much attention, if any, to their bad habits. Show them the right way to eat and offer encouragement once they show interest.
Keep up the good work, know that you’re not alone and hope they won’t be living off a diet of raisins and Pom bears when they turn 18!
For more advice and meal inspiration, follow Meals for Mini Mouths on Instagram, and don't forget to check out our recipes page for her fun healthy family meals!