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.
1 year +
‘Madalyn has become a real foody fusspot and eats less than she did when she was a baby,’ says Charlotte Savage who lives in Mersfield in East Sussex and is mum to Madalyn, 2. ‘She’ll happily eat something one day, and then refuse it the next which really winds me up. The more I insist she eats something, the more she’s likely to refuse. I’ve spent ages making patterns out of food and even tried bribery to get her to eat something, but nothing works. She’ll willingly eat junk food and I tend to rely on convenience meals because at least I know she’ll eat them.’
Madalyn’s daily diet:
Cornflakes with milk
Cheese sandwich, crisps
Beef burger, potato smiley faces, sweetcorn
Snacks and drinks
Crisps, orange juice, doughnut
- Providing Madalyn eats a variety of foods, she should automatically get the energy and nutrients she needs. On this particular day (above) her iron intake was low, but over the course of several days, she does eat enough iron-rich foods such as red meat, cereals, eggs and baked beans.
- There are various reasons why toddlers who eat well as babies, suddenly become picky or start refusing certain foods – even the ones they loved yesterday. Babies grow rapidly during their first year, but their growth rate starts slowing down after this and appetite can fall off a bit naturally. Little children like Madalyn are good at judging hunger signals, so it might be that she simply doesn’t need as much to eat.
- At this age, Madalyn is also becoming more independent, so being picky is one way she might try to exert her influence. It may have less to do with what’s on her plate than simply her need to push the limits and exert some control over her life.
- Getting wound up tends to make matters worse, and if you try forcing Madalyn to eat and she resists, mealtimes can easily become a battle of wills that both of you will lose. Forget about bribery too, as bargains like “Eat your cabbage and you can have some pudding” are unlikely to persuade her to eat something she doesn’t want. The trick is to keep mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable for her and concentrate on what she is willing to eat for the time being.
- Aim to give Madalyn as much variety as you can manage (even if it turns out to be the same variety for days or weeks on end) and choose some foods from each of the following groups each day:
- Milk and dairy foods
- Meat, poultry and fish, or alternatives like eggs, beans peas and lentils
- Starchy foods like bread, rice, cereals and pasta
- Fruit and vegetables
- Convenience foods aren’t all bad, but try to cut down on the burgers and chips, which are high in fat and salt. Go for healthier alternatives, such as pizza, fish fingers and pasta. Filling up on snacks might be taking the edge off Madalyn’s appetite at mealtimes. Get around this by thinking of snacks as opportunities to give her nourishing foods. Swap the crisps and doughnuts for a scone, breadsticks, fresh fruit or vegetable sticks which will boost her intake of vitamins and other nutrients.
- Finally, make life easier by keeping meals quick and simple. Giving her some choice at mealtimes without letting her rule the roost may encourage her to tuck in. This works best if you let her choose from a small selection of foods you’ve already picked out (“Do you want a cheese sandwich or a slice of pizza?”). Alternatively, put a selection of foods on her plate and let her pick and choose what she eats. Let her decide when she’s had enough, then swallow your pride and take her plate away.
What worked for Charlotte
‘Taking a more relaxed attitude has helped,’ says Charlotte. ‘If Madalyn is being picky and I feel myself getting cross, I try to step back from the situation. She’s still fussy but mealtimes are a lot less fraught now. I make sure she has healthy nourishing snacks between meals so I’ve stopped worrying that she may be going short of nutrients.’