The summer is now well and truly drawing to a close and the previously deep green leaves (if slightly crispy from the intense heat!) are finally turning to that deliciously autumn-orange hue.
I love this time of year, there’s a certain crispness to the air and we all know that the delights of the colder season are on their way. However, it is not such a fond farewell to the ease of summer food, is it!
Throughout the summer we and our little ones will have gorged on seasonal fresh fruits, ice lollies and tasty BBQ fare – the fussy toddlers have had the best few months yet I’m willing to bet.
Perhaps your little one is rebelling against the lack of summery treats, or perhaps they never delighted in these and you’ve been having a fussy battle for a while now. Either way, I hope that some of these tips and tricks will help you and your little one to embrace food once again and get over the fussy phases.
Firstly, it’s important to note that I said phases. That’s right, it’s not a constant state of fussiness; it is very rare to be stuck with a fussy human being for the rest of your days! For the vast majority of little ones this truly is just a phase…as long as we don’t allow it to become learned behaviour.
Below I’ve collated a few key factors that you could consider and experiment with, if you’re finding that your little one is proving to be particularly fussy at the moment. There may not be a one-sized fits all approach, but hopefully some of the points below will give you some food for thought and help you to navigate through this fussy phase, ready for the delights of that Christmas dinner in a couple of month’s time!
The importance of timing really cannot be underestimated for many little ones. You don’t want your child to be so hungry they’re upset and can’t face eating, but you also want them to be hungry enough that they actually want to eat. This is a fine balance to get right and there isn’t a perfect timing period for everyone.
It may take a bit of experimenting to find out the optimum window for you. Try limiting snack time to two hours before a meal. If this seems too long, shorten it by 20 minutes and see how this goes. Try to use one period of time for 2-3 days before deciding it’s a complete failure and then reflect, adjust and try again until you find the right timing for you and your little one. The problem with chopping and changing timings every day is that appetites can differ daily and so on the first day your little one may genuinely not be too hungry, may be coming down with a cold, teething – any number of things. So before declaring it a failure, it can be worth trying again the next day.
Also, be aware that these timings may need adjusting as they grow up, or even if they’ve had a particularly energetic day or are poorly – many factors can cause little ones to respond differently. So if your normal timing isn’t working one day, it can be useful to think about why that is and what else is going on in the bigger picture.
For some little ones, drinks function in a similar way to snacks, particularly the more filling drinks like milk. Because of this, it may be worth viewing drinks like you have done with snacks. If they’ve just had a large amount of milk, they may not have much room left for food. Sometimes a smaller amount of milk 30-60 minutes before a meal, with another smaller top-up afterwards, can work a treat. Again, experiment a bit to find what works for you and your little one.
Some well-known writers and bloggers have explored the reactions that we have towards our little ones and their eating habits. It’s important to remember that we want to allow our children to grow up with a love of food, but also a healthy relationship with it. We don’t want them to think that they are eating to please us or to control a situation.
To this end, it is often noted that not reacting to some eating behaviours can sometimes be useful for parents. Obviously this may not work for all and it does go against our emotional instincts, but for some people it’s worth a try and can really work.
Avoid praising ‘good eating’. Instead, you could model conversational habits and say things like ‘Isn’t this delicious!’ I love the fact that this opens up more doors to conversation at the table that is about the food on the plate, rather than how the child is eating. As little ones grow up, it can be very powerful to talk about different colours, flavours and textures at the table, as well as by getting them involved in the preparation. If your little one isn’t interested, or you feel may be too young, it doesn’t matter – modelling this vocabulary and positive conversation of any kind can set the foundations for enjoyable meal times later on. If nothing else, I’ve also found this can help me to find topics of conversation around food when I’m tired at the end of the day and have very little to really talk about in my tired state with my husband! It’s often taken us back and made us recall meals we ate on dates, our wedding day and trips out before having kids.
Taking the focus away from their action of eating can prevent some little ones from seeing meals as a chance for control, and the alternative conversations that can develop may also help to develop a life-long love of flavours and communal dining.
The food itself
There are many little tips that come under this bracket and I’m going to condense them into a top three. The first being to consider offering new foods alongside foods your little one is familiar with. Some children can be wary of new things and so having the familiarity of something they recognise can give them the confidence to try it. I’d also recommend always introducing new foods when you’re eating them too. Children learn from us and if they can see us eating something, often this can encourage them to try it, as long as we’re not pressurising them to (see previous section!).
Another tip that works for some parents is to consider the appearance of the food. If you’re introducing fritters, perhaps you could use an interesting cookie cutter to shape these in a fun way. Sometimes shaking up the presentation can help. Often parents start by serving food on the highchair tray and when their little one gets fussy a few months later they get frustrated and don’t understand what’s changed – sometimes that’s just it: a change is needed to spice things up! I’ve had many parents share that moving from a plain white high chair tray to the colourful sections of our EasyMats has helped re-focus their little one on the food in front of them, simply by presenting it in a different way that’s a bit more like mummy and daddy are using…but secured to the tray for the safety of our walls and carpets! If you don’t already have one of our EasyMats, check out the link below to see our range of sizes and colours: https://easytots.com/products/
Lastly, a tip for nutrition. If your little one really is refusing to eat nutritional parts of their meals, consider ways you can incorporate it in a more subtle way. For example, can you grate vegetables into your child’s favourite pizza/pasta sauce? Could you make a variety of different vegetable fries? There are even recipes out there that get vegetables into brownies and other tasty treats that you could look into!
Remember it’s a phase
As I said earlier, fussy eating is often a phase and keeping this in mind can help us to not slip into habits that could hinder us escaping it. If we only serve fruit, because that’s all a child will eat, then of course in a few day’s time they’ll be confused and ‘rebel’ if we want them to eat a broccoli and spinach quiche.
Remember it’s a phase and be consistent with offering a variety.
But, by remembering it’s a phase, sometimes we also need to explore the reasons. Is it just a normal phase of fussiness or has something caused it? Can we rule out teething, illness, disrupted routines that may have thrown things a little off kilter? Sometimes going back to basics and offering a variety for a few days and sticking to it can really help.
I hope that some of these tips gives you ideas to experiment with so you can find what works for you. If you find anything that works, do let me know so I can share these next time I’m asked about this topic – the more ideas the better!