As you may already know (from the about page and facebook page), my eldest daughter, Lulu, has always been an angel when it came to sleep, BUT my youngest, AJ, was a completely different story! Hence, I became a sleep consultant to help other parents negotiate the minefield of sleep deprivation.
When it came to weaning, Lulu continued to be a star. She would try everything and didn’t really seem to dislike anything, with raw salmon sushi becoming her favourite food by the time she was about 2 years old.
AJ, however, was a different story. I was convinced she didn’t like food at all, as she just wouldn’t take any purees (even the ones containing my blood, sweat, and tears!). Then, we realised that she just wanted to be like everyone else and feed herself – Eureka!
Of course, handing over the reins to a 6-month-old wasn’t without its difficulties!… We accepted that there was going to be plenty of mess (in fact I think there might still be some yoghurt on the ceiling from this period in our lives…), but she seemed to enjoy it nonetheless. So we embarked on a ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ version of baby-led weaning.
Unfortunately, around this time, Lulu decided she was going to start asserting her independence and shunning a lot of foods she’d previously loved (although weirdly sushi has remained a firm favourite!), which was another skill her sister learnt from her (how to shun foods, not the sushi part).
So suddenly, instead of having two children who were willing to try almost anything, I was stuck with 2 monsters who wanted to live on a beige diet (although irritatingly would gobble up different cuisine at nursery and school).
Thanks to the tricks and tips I’ve learnt while recently studying a short infant nutrition course, combined with a little of my own research, I’m starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so thought I’d share a few hints and tips in case you’re in the same boat with your little darlings (let’s not call them ‘fussy eaters’, maybe ‘selective eaters’ instead?).
Tip 1: Bribery!
Bribery is fine to get them to try new foods, but don’t bribe them with other foods (errrr, so no to the haribo I’ve always used). Try using stickers or or reward charts for other non-food related items to encourage them to try things.
Kids are smart and will work out by claiming they don’t like something they get a handful of haribo in the middle of a meal (yup, guilty!). There’s also research to suggest that by using food-related bribery children are less likely to accept the new food anyway.
Tip 2: Don’t Offer Alternatives
You’ve gone to a lot of hard work to prepare and cook a meal, they have to understand that you’re not running a cafe, and this is what is on offer, and you would never knowingly cook something you know they’re going to hate.
You could offer them some fruit or vegetables as a pudding so they don’t go to bed hungry (unless of course fruit and vegetables are the root of your problem!). They won’t be harmed by short periods of not eating much, but they will benefit from learning healthy eating habits at a young age.
Tip 3: Let Them Serve Themselves
They know they’re not going to get something else, so let them decide how much of everything they would like to eat by putting it on their plates themselves.
I know, this could well mean that they just have a plateful of rice or pasta, but by giving them the independence to do this, they’ll gradually start to branch out and eat more of the food everyone else is having. If they’re not big enough to actually serve it themself, you can do it for them, but paying attention to how much of everything they would like.
Tip 4: Involve Them in Meal Planning & Prep
It’s amazing how kids are more likely to eat something that they’ve had a hand in creating. Chopping veg, whisking eggs etc are all perfectly manageable (although may not be up to your usual standard, yet). Practise makes perfect.
Tip 5: Pair Unfamiliar Foods with Familiar Foods
Rather than serving, for example, gnocchi with smoked salmon and leeks (all novel foods) at the same time, try introducing the foods individually and gradually. It might seem like a real slog, but we’re in this for the long term!
Tip 6: Sniff, Lick, Smell
You can start introducing foods with a stepped approach. Maybe just having the food on a separate plate on the table, then getting them to sniff it, touch it and lick it before they actually take a little bite. Depending on what it is (and the level of resistance) this could all be within one mealtime, or spread out over a few.
Tip 7: Lead By Example
This is probably one of the most important points. Where possible, try to sit down and eat with your children. If they can see that you’re eating the same as them, and enjoying it, that’s going to encourage them to eat it too.
With everyone’s lives so busy these days, it’s tough to find the time to all sit down together, but trying to find the time once a day (or even just at weekends) where you can enjoy some special family time is really important for all of you. It also helps us as parents look at the food we consume too.
Tip 8: Don’t Try to Hide New Foods
I’m sure we’ve all done it! Hiding extra veggies in a bolognese sauce to try and up their 5 a day? Although it does mean they’re eating it, it doesn’t mean they’ll actually like the taste of it when it’s presented on its own (and can even lead to your little one becoming less likely to try it if they feel they’ve previously been ‘tricked’ into having it).
Tip 9: Meal Timing
Structure mealtimes so that your child is actually hungry when you offer them food. This sounds like an obvious one, but it’s definitely a trap I fell into with both girls. While most children can still happily eat three main meals and two snacks a day, if the timing and/or quantities are wrong they simply won’t be hungry enough when you offer them a meal.
Tip 10: Be Realistic
Be aware of what a realistic sized portion is for your child. Again, something I think we can all be guilty of at times is expecting kids to eat far more than they actually need. A really good resource is this article about portion sizes, which has pictures of the sizes of portions for 1 – 4 year olds. Or this article from healthychildren.org.
It can also be really useful to set a time limit of 30 minutes for mealtimes so they don’t drag on, with everyone becoming increasingly frustrated. It’s also worth remembering that we all have fluctuating appetites – some days we’re just not that hungry, and that’s ok! Try not to force them to ignore their body’s cues that they have eaten enough, or it could be something they continue ignoring into adulthood.
So there we go, some hints and tips to help your selective eater. I’d love to hear how you get on! Of course, this is generic advice, I am not a nutritionist or dietician. If you have real concerns about what or how much your child is eating, I suggest you speak to your health visitor or GP for more advice.