Fussy eating often tops the list of parents’ concerns, with mealtimes being one of the most common battlegrounds.
‘Feeding problems are far more common than parents may think,’ says nutritionist Caroline Bunker. ‘The good news is that being fussy about food can be a normal part of a child’s development and is usually just a passing phase.’
Here, a mum reveals her child’s picky eating habits and Caroline offers stress-free ways to get their eating back on track.
2 years +
‘Alwyn would rather be playing with his toys than having to sit and eat,’ says Zoë Watson from East Sussex, mum to Alwyn, almost 3 and Manny, 8 months. ‘He’ll have breakfast, but it’s a miracle if he eats more than a few mouthfuls at other meals. He’s doesn’t like trying new foods, particularly vegetables, though he loves bread and fruit. He has bags of energy but I wonder how he manages to get by on so little.’
Alwyn’s daily diet
Weetabix with semi-skimmed milk
Pasta with fresh tomato sauce, a few chips, grapes
Cheese and tomato sandwich, fruit cake, yoghurt
Snacks and drinks
cubes of cheese and apple
- It’s worrying when a child won’t eat much, but over the course of a few days Alwyn does eat a surprisingly wide variety of foods and gets a balance of nutrients.
- Being faced with a large meal might seem daunting for Alwyn if his appetite is small, so scale down the food you put on his plate. Refuel him between meals with snacks like scones, fresh fruit, cubes of cheese, milk or yoghurt. It’s okay for him to eat six times a day, but try to keep snacks for set times rather than letting him graze which might encourage bad eating patterns.
- Vegetables are a good source of vitamins B and C, but don’t figure often in Alwyn’s diet. Try boosting his intake by offering small sticks of raw vegetables, such as carrot, cucumber or mini tomatoes or slip them into casseroles, soups or stews.
- Milk is an important part of Alwyn’s diet, too. It’s high in protein and minerals needed for healthy teeth and bones. Semi-skimmed milk is fine from the age of 2 if a child is a good eater, but, as Alwyn is going through a picky stage, it’s best to stick to whole milk for the time being. Use it on cereals, or in milkshakes or smoothies, or substitute milk for some extra cheese or yoghurt.
- At this age, children like things to be familiar, so Alwyn’s reluctance to try new foods isn’t unusual. Babies are happy to put almost anything in their mouths, but by the age of 2, they often become more reluctant to try unfamiliar tastes and textures.
- As Alwyn’s world expands, his taste in foods will broaden too. In the meantime, encourage him to try tiny tastes of new foods, but you may need to offer a food repeatedly over several weeks before he’ll bite. Providing Alwyn is healthy and energetic, he’s probably eating enough, but it might be worth keeping a diary of what he eats and drinks over a period of a week or two. If you’re still worried, talk things over with your health visitor or GP.
What worked for Zoë
‘Alwyn seems happier to eat tiny meals with several snacks so now I let him refuel regularly throughout the day. I was getting worried about his eating habits, so I talked it over with my health visitor who reassured me that although Alwyn’s small for his age, he is growing normally, so I feel less anxious now.’
Get through a faddy phase
- Keep mealtimes sociable–sit and eat with your child and chat about things other than food.
- Concentrate on what your child will eat-aim for variety, even if it seems like the same variety for days on end.
- Set a good example by eating a wide range of food yourselves.
- Eating with other children or varying the venue may also encourage a toddler to eat up.
- Give your child some choice, within reason, about what she eats. Letting her help with food preparation may also help.
- Give vitamin drops formulated for children containing vitamins A, C and D until the age of 5 to help ensure an adequate intake.
Don’t bribe or force your child to eat-let him decide when he’s finished and remove his plate.
Try not to comment on how well she eats beyond a few words of praise if she does well.
Don’t be put off if your child refuses something new-the more you offer new foods, the more likely he is to take a bite.
Avoid getting angry with your child. Keeping calm makes it clear that being picky does not get attention.