Almost every parent ends up with one child that always was or becomes a fussy eater at some point. Usually somewhere around 2-3 years old (the dreaded terrible-twos phase!) Many a parenting article will have you believe it’s caused by some buried emotional trauma/bad habit accidently created during the weaning onto solids stage. Coincidentally it’s usually an article that offers a miracle cure for the fusspots in your life, such as to reel you into buying an extortionately priced section plate that make meal times into a competition (enter the Fred Dinner Winner™ plate) or if they’re not trying to sell you something as a quick fix to a very normal development phase in every child’s life, they’re outlining what you SHOULD of done to prevent your little(s) from turning their noses up at your ‘vegetable homemade lasagne’ or your ‘veggies with a dab of delicious houmousy goodness.’ I’ve seen the later targeted a lot towards parents who chose traditional pureè weaning and therefore if ONLY you’d of chosen baby-led weaning (BLW), you wouldn’t be battling a little person every mealtime.
It is all a bunch of RUBBISH! Hear me now when I say I was you once. I was roped in by all these ‘products’ that were magically going to get my then 2 1/2 yr old Abbigail to eat. As long as I pull out my debit card!
These companies know how to play on their target audience, parents in this case because we just want our kids to EAT! We get it in our heads that they’ll end up getting ill if we don’t find a way past this, we are in a race against the clock so that doesn’t happen. We envision the scenario in our desperate state – us having to explain to Dr’s why our child is deficient in this or that, anemic and/ weight loss. The failure of one of the most basic parenting jobs, to FEED our child(ren), all fingers pointing at us. We blame ourselves. Mummy guilt is Real and Raging for us fusspot parents.
As for traditional weaning vs baby-led, despite the bold claims by these so called child nutritional experts, ask a handful of parents and they will tell you that they have had a child that was traditionally weaned and they eat anything and everything. It really is the flip of the coin. You didn’t make the wrong decision in your method to wean onto solids and your child will NOT go hungry to the extent they end up in hospital (unless theres an unknown medical issue behind it which is rare). Going through a stage of eating next to nothing or only certain favourite “safe foods” (as I used to call them) is a perfectly normal stage of development which we needn’t worry about or think needs fixing.
I wish somebody had told me that 👆 when Abbie would only eat 3 specific meals. Toast, spaghetti bolognase and chicken tikka curry.
Just like in any other area of parenting, there’s no right or wrong way, only guidelines. Every child is different so we have no choice but to trial and error different methods to see what our child(ren) respond to best! Once I stopped blaming myself for the fact she hardly ate and stopped trying to fix her. That’s when all the negative feelings around and about Abbies eating needed stopped and I started to refocus and direct all this emotional energy into;
1. Helping Abbie build a positive association with food by leading by example while bringing positive praise to the table. Instead of fretting over “Just one more bite! C’mon,” I wanted her to feel good about what she’d already achieved. E.g “Wow, I can’t believe you ate 3 whole pieces!” Children generally want to please their parents so being more mindful about my attitude and words was bound to help.
2. Focusing on healthier eating. Instead of giving her ANYTHING as long as was eating, I began to expand the variety of nutritious things on offer and teach her from a young age whats good for our bodies.
With childhood obesity on the rise in Britain I knew my best chance of influencing Abbie’s future choices in food is by offering her as much variety of goodness as possible so her tastes in healthy foods are more likely to stay with her into her adult years.
I once read somewhere that a child needs a strange food introduced Approx 15 times before they’ll accept it. It was tough going, offering a new fruit for example as part of every lunch and we did waste a lot, BUT over those 15+ introductions progress was made. Slowly but surely At the beginning she’d push the plate away, with added distractions she let it sit on the tray infront of her and then she’d slowly touch and play with it. Eventually letting her play and explore how that new food looked and felt, it slowly made its way to her mouth as she concurred her fear. The first victory with this was with a strawberry. And blimey did I throw the biggest embarrassing Mum dance party ever to celebrate! The more excited I acted as she tried another nibble again and again, the more she tasted and ATE! Positive praise works!
It was such a surreal feeling of relief mixed with anxiety over not being able to continue to help her progress in the right direction. I was so accustomed to her not eating and refusing to try anything different, that now I knew how to help motivate her age appropriately, that now ‘I’ needed to teach myself more about Good food and cooking to give my daughter the best possible chance of continuing to explore new things.
I used that anxiety to power us through. I’d take her to the supermarket just to go for fruit and veg. Before trips to the shops were for safe meal stock ups only. Now I was engaging her more in the shopping process, I noted she felt more in control and her likes/dislikes acknowledged if she picked something herself. When she decided to grab some oranges because they were orange, we went with it and the next day after some serious exploring and mushing it up in her hands, a slice made it to her mouth and again we rejoiced! It was working!
I spent the little ‘me time’ I had, Googling recipes that incorporated something she was familiar with and likely to eat, with something she’d pointed to at the shops or that she’d seen on my plate before. Put it together and to see what happened. I got her up on the worktop plating up the portion she wanted. Usually she’d grab 2-3 bits of whatever it was and the old me would of fretted, pressured her into letting me put more on her plate etc. Mealtimes slowly became enjoyable again. Sure there were days she’d avoid that new food on her plate, if she didn’t want it I’d simply take it away and Abbie grew to understand that meant no afters. Her afters were a big incentive as she loved chocolate buttons or a bit of dairy-free ice cream.
Abbigail had Cows Milk Protein Intolerance (CMPI) from a few weeks old but thankfully it got better with time. She can now have 2 dairy products a day at age 5. That’s a journey all on its own I’ll save for another blog post!
Now at 5 years old, ok Abbie’s still a bit of a fusspot but she eats most of what’s put in front of her. I learnt quickly in the big changes we made to keep the variety in a revolving routine. If she hadn’t been given a certain meal in a while, we’d go back a step and it’ll need re-intergrating into our meal plans regularly in order for her to accept it again. To take the anxiety away over her becoming ill from lack of certain vitamins and such, I started her on a kids multi-vitamin and Elderberry syrup (which helps your immune system). I definitely noticed a difference overall with her overall health and energy levels. When she was only eating 3 particular meals, Abbie caught every bug going it seemed and she’d always choose a sit down activity over going outside running and jumping about because she simply had no energy.
We did have a bit of a set back when she started primary school. Abbie would come home ravenous, ready to raid the snack basket because she didn’t eat her lunch at school. Again the old me would of caved in with worry and got her on packed lunchs so I could monitor how much she was eating at school and rely on her ‘safe foods’ to get something in her! Nope, with the encouragement from our Health Visitor I kept her on school dinners and a few weeks later (yep Abbie was so stubborn she skipped lunch at school for weeks initially!) she came home and said she tried Cheesy Bake, the next week it was a plain jacket potato, the week after Abbie was looking forward to sausage roll Wednesdays!
You can’t force your child to eat and sometimes your anxiety over how little they seemingly eat just fuels the fire and situation into a much bigger deal than it actually is. I’m guilty as charged! I’m just so glad there was light at the end of the tunnel. When you’re in a situation where your child barely eats, it’s so hard to recognise the phase won’t last forever. Although I didn’t believe anybody at the time, it is a perfectly normal phase toddlers go through and you WILL find ways and get through it.
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