put a stop to picky eating today
Do you have a fussy
baby? A toddler who
turns his nose up at
food? A nutritional
no-sayer of a child?
Don’t worry – it’s
Ababy who’s fussy with his food needn’t be the cause of as much worry as you might fear. Toddlers regularly turn their noses up at food, and often the reason is not something that should overly concern you. It could be a genuine dislike for a food, the child may not be hungry, he may be teething, or perhaps asserting his independence. To reassure you, it is extremely rare for toddlers to starve themselves. While it’s depressing when a meal you’ve carefully prepared is refused, with patience and perseverance, and by adapting to your baby’s needs and whims, these episodes can be kept to a minimum. The key is not to get stressed or angry, and turn mealtimes into a battle zone. Remember: occasionally refusing food is normal.
A learning curve
Babies may begin to reject food at four to six months, during weaning. As you gradually try to introduce some solids – in the form of baby rice, vegetable and fruit purées – into your baby’s diet to complement his milk feed, you may find he initially rejects them. But be patient, and try again the next day. An early refusal may be merely put down to the surprise of the new sensation and taste in his mouth. Weaning is a stop-start process, and there may be days when he is willing to try purées, and days when he insists on the comfort of your milk. This is normal.
Between six and nine months your baby’s first tooth will probably have cut and he will be able to chew. This is a time when you can introduce him to coarser purées, and foods such as breads, and meats and pulses for proteins – foods he will need to chew, which may take a little getting used to. Once he can support himself, this is the time to introduce him to eating in a highchair at the table with the rest of the family. He may find this strange, and refuse food at first, but persevere, and even encourage him to feed himself – in spite of the mess!
From nine months, solid foods will form the majority of your baby’s diet, and he will increasingly want to feed himself. From one year his diet can be almost as varied as any other member of the family’s, but because of his increasing sense of independence, he is more likely to express strong likes and dislikes, rejecting many foods for just one or two, which can cause parental worry about dietary balance.
To overcome this, dietician Dr Frankie Robinson suggests you expose your infant to as many different foods as
It’s the anxiety that the child will want to avoid. If you take a step back he will find his way back to food when he’s hungry!
possible. “Try different proteins in the form of meat, fish, properly cooked eggs or beans, various starchy foods, and of course as many different fruits and vegetables as possible,” she says. “Gradually experiment with tastes, colours and textures – the more food experiences he has, the more likely it is he’ll find more foods he loves.”
Toddlers, food and a growing independence
There may be psychological reasons why your little one sometimes refuses food, but again it’s usually nothing to worry about. “Food is one of the areas which toddlers can regulate and in which they can assert their independence,” says child psychotherapist Tessa Baradon. “Parents shouldn’t view this as a problem, but rather a positive natural development.”
Problems can arise, however, if you try and push your child into eating when he doesn’t want to. “To a child, food can become associated with pleasing you, the mother,” says Tessa. “Some children think, ‘I have to eat mom’s food in order to be loved by her’, and will comply with your wishes, but end up feeling deprived of their autonomy. Others may prefer to go hungry and refuse to eat. If you then try and bribe or force him, you’re sending him the message that you’re worried about his eating habits, which is in itself traumatic for the child.”
To break this cycle or prevent it from establishing itself, withdraw from the conflict, allow your child to feed himself from a wide selection of foods. “It’s the anxiety which the child will want to avoid,” says Tessa. “If you take a step back he will find his way back to food when he’s hungry!”
Some toddlers eat seemingly small amounts of food, but may do so more regularly, so their total daily intake is adequate. If your child is a small eater, give him less food than you expect him to eat, so that he actively asks for more food. Pressing food onto him or giving him a huge amount of food on his plate will only discourage him. However, if you notice that your tot seems to be eating very small amounts of food, or especially if he is clearly not growing or is underweight, consult your health visitor, paediatrician or doctor immediately. YB