Help! My Toddler Is So Fussy! By Jo at Baby Led Kitchen

This is one of the most common cries for help I hear from parents. ‘The baby is fine but the toddler won’t eat!”. In this guest blog post, I’m going to identify some of the causes of ‘fussy eating’ in little ones and give a couple of tips of how you can manage it. Hope it helps!

“Baby Led Weaning will stop you getting a fussy eater” … is not something you will ever hear me say.

Why not?

Because I have my very own home-grown toddler who was given ‘real’ food from six months and who still has days where all she wants is cheese or, seemingly, air. I was exhibiting at PABS recently when I received a message from my partner that read “she won’t eat. So far she has had three raisins, some milk and she licked the jam off her toast”. And there I was promoting how we should offer babies a rainbow of colourful and delicious food!

Baby Led Weaning allows children to grow their sense of autonomy as they are in charge of how much they eat and what they eat (from the selection provided of course). It is hugely beneficial in helping children to know when they are full and helping them to develop likes and dislikes. In a way, it is a good thing to be a little bit fussy. We don’t all like the same foods as adults after all.

I do believe that introducing your baby to lots of different flavours can help them to be more receptive to new flavours in general, however for most toddlers being cautious and picky with food usually comes with the territory. This is really common and very normal, though certainly isn’t an argument for NOT giving them wide exposure to different foods from the beginning. You may find that your baby who would once eat anything still becomes fussy from time to time, but may have more quirky ‘safe’ foods (we once experienced a fortnight where my daughter only ate mushrooms, olives and prawns – go figure).

Whilst I specialise in Baby Led Weaning, I am frequently asked for help with feeding older siblings too, so I’m going to share some tips that I have picked up as someone who has worked with many young children and also as a mum of a very strong-willed two year old!

Why won’t she just eat her ******* peas?!

Firstly, parenting writer Sarah Ockwell Smith talks about toddlers being ‘Neophobic’ (afraid of trying new things) in her book ‘Gentle Eating’. She believes that we have actually evolved to be this way, in order to protect ourselves from potentially poisonous foods (smart!). In the case of the child who suddenly won’t eat something they ate as a baby, she suggests that maybe they just can’t remember having ever eaten it. I know that my daughter is certainly more suspicious of new foods than she used to be, though I do think that offering her a vast range of flavours regularly since six months means that she is usually accepting of most foods.

Secondly, The toddler stage can be overwhelming. Children have this new sense of autonomy (“do it ‘self!” “All by my own!”) and yet don’t always have the freedom or control that they wish for. Equally, they still need so much comfort and support to help them with the many new emotions they can now experience. It’s tough being a toddler! Mealtimes can easily become a bit of a power struggle, and this can be due to a child seeking a little more control in their life.

Be cool as a(n uneaten) cucumber

It can be painful to lovingly cook a meal for your child for them to push it away, throw it at the wall or say “not like it mummy”. But don’t show your pain! Remember that your toddler is not capable of cooking and has no choice to get up and make a sandwich later on if they get peckish. Keep mealtimes neutral and no-fuss, or risk causing angst around food that could pose much bigger problems later on. If your little one doesn’t want their meal (because it’s a new food, because the broccoli is touching the sauce or just because it’s Tuesday) just calmly move it to one side and offer something plain, like toast. Don’t make food into a ‘thing’. To save your sanity and ingredients, offer smaller portions that won’t overwhelm them. Always offer dessert if you are serving it. To say “you can only have a yoghurt if you eat all your dinner” just encourages over eating.

Offer Choice

What I love about Baby Led Weaning is that it gives babies the message that they can choose to do things or not do things. They choose which bits of a meal to eat and how much they eat. It’s important to extend this into toddlerhood by offering as many choices as you can. Blue cup or green? Scrambled egg for lunch or a sandwich? Courgette or spinach in the pasta? By doing this you are fulfilling that need for control before they seek it through being fussy at meal times.

Put them to work

Get your children helping with the shopping and cooking as early as you can. Get them to look for different items in the supermarket by pretending you can’t see them for yourself. Standing directly in front of the bananas and saying “oh I just can’t see the bananas ANYWHERE, where could they BE?” will generally suffice if your toddler is as rubbish at looking for things as mine is. Let them handle fresh fruit and veg by getting them to help put them away once you are home. In terms of cooking, I have lots of simple recipes that children can help with on my website, babyledkitchen.co.uk, and in ‘The Little CookBook’. Small hands are perfect for mashing, stirring and putting cupcake cases into tins and prepping their own food can help to minimize anxiety and suspicion around food.

Be Creative

Think about how, where and when you serve meals. Some children respond really well to serving themselves from food laid out on the table, or pointing to the food they would like from a buffet style selection. Some children eat better from a ‘grazing tray’ of snacks available to them as they play during the afternoon rather than set lunch and dinner times. You could include things like fruit and veg, savoury muffins, energy balls, homemade snack bars, crackers, cubes of cheese, boiled egg, cold meat and mini quiches. Just keep an eye on sugar and salt levels and make sure foods that need to be kept in the fridge aren’t out too long. Picnics are another idea. Invite your child’s favourite toys too and head outside with a blanket if its sunny, or have your own indoor picnic to pass time on a rainy day.

Stick with the familiar but offer something new

If your child only eats fish fingers for dinner, give them fish fingers. Every day if need be. But do serve a little of something else alongside. If it isn’t eaten, never mind, but there’s no harm in offering. If your child gets anxious about new foods, just offer one new thing at a time. Don’t make a fuss if the food is eaten or not eaten. The key is keeping food a non-issue. Remember that food is food and that putting food on a pedestal can be asking for trouble. Insisting that a child eats their green veg when you know they don’t like it is calling for battle! Your toddler is developing a sense of what they do and don’t like to eat, which is a good thing. One thing you can do is to work with their likes and dislikes when offering new foods. For example, if your little one loves chocolate, look into some healthier chocolatey recipes that are refined sugar free and contain nutritious ingredients such as fruit and nuts. I have a few recipes like this on my website. If they prefer creamier tastes, try adding a spoonful of crème fraiche, cream or yoghurt to stews/casseroles/curries for example. Some children like to be able to see their food clearly so that they can choose what they want to eat more easily, so you might find our divided suction plates useful for separating foods out (plug alert: these are available on our online shop on the BLK website or on Amazon).

It’s all normal, it’s all a phase, it’s all normal, it’s all a phase….

… and unless your child’s health is suffering, the best thing you can do is take it in your stride and let your child eat what they feel safe to eat. They will almost always branch out in their own time. It’s not worth risking their relationship with food in the long run. Of course, if you ARE concerned that your child’s health may be suffering because they aren’t eating well enough, of course speak to your doctor or Health Visitor. I hope my suggestions here are helpful. Check out my website and/or book for whole-family recipes that are quick and cheap to make. I can’t promise your child will eat any of them but YOU are less likely to cry if it gets rejected if you haven’t slaved over a hot oven or spent megabucks to make the food! Please feel free to contact me for any particular recipe ideas or general advice about baby or toddler food.

Wishing you many peaceful and tasty meal times!

Jo, Baby Led Kitchen

Email: jo@babyledkitchen.co.uk

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