If your tot won’t eat what’s good for him, try some of these simple solutions
From around the age of 2 (and sometimes even before then), your toddler starts to make up her own mind about what she will and won’t eat.
Her eating habits can become unpredictable – what she happily ate last week will be refused this week. Or the food she rejected outright a few days ago is what she now asks to have for her lunch. Such fussy eating habits can drive you to distraction.
You can’t force your child to eat, no matter how hard you try. You can be sure that if you use threats to try to coerce her into clearing her plate, she’ll think to herself, “The more they push me to eat all of this, the more I’m determined not to.”
That’s why, when it comes to your toddler’s fussy eating, persuasion and encouragement tend to work better than insisting she eats.
If you’re struggling to get your child to eat properly, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone – fussy eating isn’t just common, it’s normal! But here are some ways to cope without starting World War 3 at the dinner table.
A classic time for problems to arise is around the 12-month mark.
“As a child becomes more aware of the world, his natural instincts may make him suspicious of new foods,’ explains clinical child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, who works for the NHS and specialises in food and sibling behaviour. “It’s nature’s way of protecting us from eating food that’s potentially harmful.”
Experts agree that the earlier you introduce particular types of food – preferably within the first year – the more likely they are to be accepted by your children, but there are no guarantees.
Sharing mealtimes is definitely a good idea, even if you just have a sandwich while feeding your child. ‘If children are fed on their own and all the attention is focused on them and their eating, they may see it as the perfect way to hold your attention and prolong meals by playing rather than eating,’ suggests Dr Rudkin.
However, such is life that you can follow the rules religiously and still end up with a fussy eater. While there are very few things more frustrating than watching other children guzzle organic home-made casserole while your child baulks at anything but nuggets, the odds are that you haven’t done anything wrong. Children – just like adults – simply have different tastes and appetites.
All you can do is encourage good eating habits by setting an example – if your child sees you eating and enjoying lots of different types of food, he should, eventually, copy you.
If children refuse to eat and you know that there’s no underlying reason, explain that they’ll be hungry later and there won’t be anything else on offer until the next meal
Dr Angharad Rudkin, specialist in food and sibling behaviour
If you’re one of the lucky few that sailed through weaning, another common time for problems to arise is during the ‘terrible 2s’. Having lulled you into a false sense of security, your tot will wake one morning with dietary requirements that would make a Michelin-starred restaurant struggle.
But wielding power is what being a toddler is all about, and there aren’t many ways they can do this, apart from demanding ‘red’ jam sandwiches, rejecting everything green or insisting that something is their utterly favourite food one day and yet produce shudders of revulsion when faced with it the next.
If the golden rules are never to force a child to eat something he doesn’t want and never to withhold pudding, does that mean we have to cater to every whim? What happens when your 3-year-old refuses his meal for no reason other than he can’t be bothered and then returns 15 minutes later complaining he’s hungry?
‘There’s a great deal of difference between asking a child firmly to eat his meal and making him sit in front of a plateful of congealing food for hours,’ advises Dr Rudkin.
‘If children refuse to eat and you know that there’s no underlying reason, explain that they’ll be hungry later and there won’t be anything else on offer until the next meal.’
Another golden rule is to stay calm and never make an issue out of a refusal to eat. But that’s easier said than done when your 2-year-old has thrown her meal on the floor because it wasn’t quite to her liking, or your 3-year-old won’t even come to the table.
And there’s nothing more frustrating than having your offerings rejected by a toddler who has spent the morning stuffing everything inedible he can find in his mouth.
“Darcy was weaned on family meals. She sat at the table and happily ate just about everything. But when she was about 1 she became really fussy, refusing food she’d previously enjoyed. I started puréeing again to see if it’d help, but it made no difference. I’d spend most of the mealtime cajoling her to eat with little success, which just made family eating stressful for everyone.
“In the end I decided to let her feed herself, which was what she wanted. She’d pick off her plate the things she wanted, such as pasta, bits of cheese and tiny broccoli florets, and the rest that was left she just dropped. It was messy, but at least she was happy.
“Looking back, I can see it was a big mistake to get so wound up. I still always give her a complete meal, but I never make a fuss if she doesn’t eat it. I may suggest that she tries something, but that’s as far as I go, and I think this approach definitely works better.”
Joanne, 39, mum to Holly, 7, Mason, 4, and Darcy 18 months
“From around 7 months I tried Ellie on lots of different types of food, but all she’d eat was porridge and puréed vegetables. When she reached 15 months and nothing had really changed, I was beginning to think she was never going to eat anything else. Eventually, I resolved the situation by encouraging her to share simple little snacks with me. I’d put two pieces of cheese or apple on a plate – and I’d eat one and offer her the other”
Jane, 40, mum to Ellie 1
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