I am not a doctor, I am not a dietician and I am not a health visitor. What I am though is mummy to a fussy eater and this is what works for us.
The Bear was a great eater until she turned 1. She came down with chicken pox on her first birthday, followed by a nasty cold, followed by hand, foot and month and then topped off with a lung infection which saw her admitted to hospital. This lasted from September until early February, and during this time we were more interested in getting fluids and any kind of sustenance in her to be worried about any long term habits we were forming. However, by the time spring arrived and we had a healthy toddler again, our great eater had been replaced with a toast eating – and not much else – monster. The era of the fussy eater was born.
The past 18 months have been a rollercoaster when it comes to her eating, not helped that at 3 years old she weighs around 22lbs and wears size 18-24 month clothes. As you may have guessed; she is very petite and this is reflected in her appitite. That being said, at times it’s been a struggle that has left us both in tears, as I’ve been desperate for her to eat something in a day and live in hope that one day that something may even been green. Therefore this is what I have learned over the past 18 months when it comes to trying to feed a VERY fussy eater.
DON’T STRESS ABOUT IT
Yeah I know, easier said than done. I found things got infinately better though when I stopped hovering and just let her get on with it. Lunchtime became – and in fact still is – a picnic lunch that can sit out on the table that she will slowly but surely nibble through over a few hours. Standing over her and trying to get her to eat something just does not work in this house so there is little point in stressing both of us out and turning it into a battle of wills.
Same for table etiquette such as cutlery. The Little Man is going through a phase at the moment where he won’t even take loaded spoons from me so he just helps himself. Yes, it’s horrendously messy but who cares? He’s eating and he’s happy!
CHOOSE YOUR BATTLES
At the end of the day, if they are hungry enough they will eat something. They can be stubborn and there are times where we have to hold our ground and weather the tantrums…we are the parents afterall. That being said you also have to choose your battles. If you have a 2 year old who refuses to eat anything but spaghetti and toast then it’s not the end of the world if that’s what they eat until they are ready to reach outside their comfort zone. You know your child and will know if they are refusing based on just being a little monster mid-tantrum, or whether it’s just not something they will eat.
TOP UP WITH A MULTI-VITAMIN
Now if your toddler is anything like mine, then there will be days where they eat nothing all day other than 2 slices of buttery toast, 3 bags of wotsits and a plate of chips. That’s where a multi-vitamin comes in. We currently use these Gummy Bear ones from Healthspan as sometimes getting a child to take vitamins is harder than getting them to eat a strawberry. However, hide it as a sweet and we’re onto a winner. There are so many on the market though that you just need to find one that works for you.
ARM YOURSELF WITH SNACKS
I never go anywhere without a solid selection of snacks on me. With a fussy toddler who can’t be relied on to eat anything off a menu or accept something generously prepared by friends or family, I’ve had to raid our snack supply on more than one occasion. Our bag usually contains:
- A selection of healthy “hopeful thinking” snacks – think apple, grapes, raisens. The stuff my son will eat but my daughter looks at me with a “yeah in your dreams mama” look.
- A selection of good alternatives – think Organix Goodies such as their new great value, convenient family packs of Goodies raspberry and apple oaty bars or carrot sticks. This tends to be our go to when out and about and what I try and get into her.
- A selection of not so healthy options – for use when she’s having a particularly fussy day. This includes biscuits, crisps and everything you said you would never give your child but you’re now desperate. And as long as they eat something, you’ll take it as a win.
- The bribe – in our case usually a lollipop. This is to be used in extreme situations such as leaving a park when they don’t want to, or getting into the car and sitting still long enough to be strapped into the car seat!
It’s a lot to carry around but worth it in our case as if we are ever caught short when out and about, all these items added together can even make a little make shift lunch if needed!
DON’T BE AFRAID TO GO OFF MENU
You’re eating out at a restuarant and look at the kids menu and panic as there is just nothing there that your toddler will eat. Just speak to the staff. Most are willing to work with you, maybe by plating up a childrens sized portion from the main menu or adding a few options together like a small spaghetti bolonaise with a little side of fries.
PRIME YOUR PLATE TO ENTICE PINCHING
Like Joey, many adults don’t share food….unfortuantely that tends to go out the window when you have kids. So think about loading up your own plate a little fuller ready for your toddler to raid from. For some reason they sometimes like stealing food from their parents plates rather than eating from their own so embrace it and try to tempt them with some of the things you have on offer! For some reason the Bear just loves sharing her Daddy’s food even if it’s the exact same as she has on her plate.
DON’T BE AFRAID TO USE DISTRACTIONS
Pre-parenthood I always said that no child of mine would ever eat in front of the TV. We would always eat as a family at the table in the dining room. Then I actually became a parent and like many other things, that completely went out the window. If watching Frozen, or PAW Patrol, or Toy Story again (and again and again) distracts her enough to get another chunk of food in her; then I’m sorry but I’m doing it. What we do have is her own little table and chair set in the living room though so at least she’s sitting at a table when she’s eating.
HAVE A DEFAULT TO FALL BACK ON
Ok. Last one now I promise! One thing I stick to is I refuse to cook replacement meals. Dinner is dinner, and she can choose to eat it or not. I will not cook alternatives on request as it’s just door I’m not willing to open. Before you know it you’ll have 5 disgarded meals and a toddler demanding a 6th option. Or is that just me?!
She knows this too – though still tries to push her luck from time to time. It doesn’t work though and no replacement meal ever comes. However, I won’t let her go to bed hungry therefore our default is always toast. If she doesn’t eat her dinner then the only other option she gets is toast if she wants it. She’s used this on more than one occasion!
And that’s it! As I say, I’m not specialist but after 18 months of battles these are a few of the hints and tips that have come to work for us. I’m hoping it may just give someone out there who is in a similar postion a few ideas to try. What about you? Have I missed any?? Let me know what worked for you in the comments below!