Help! I have a fussy eater!
If you are reading this, I suspect you are blessed with a fussy eater too! My eldest daughter has been a fuss-pot ever since I weaned her. She was only little when she was born (on the 9th percentile) and I was always worried about her gaining weight and most importantly getting all the nutrition from the healthy food I was cooking. I did not like the child-lead weaning idea at all. She could not grab the food as her fingers and hands were too tiny and I was also worried that she would choke. I read all the books of child weaning experts out there, made many notes, tested several recipes and produced hundreds of baby food for the freezer. She ate the purees but meal times soon became a struggle. I asked the health visitor for help, who sent a hardly readable photocopy of some general guidance also available on the internet, I felt very alone in this. Later I asked the GP, who reassured me she was developing well and that she would grow out of it. My only question was, “but when?”
It was heart breaking. Not only because I spent long hours planning, shopping and cooking the meals, but also because I was desperate for her to actually enjoy meal times and be curious about what was on her plate.
Maybe I expect(ed) too much? I have been told many times about other kids who sounded worse eaters than Annabel and how they were still growing and healthy. I could not care less. I wanted her to eat, even if others said it was perfectly normal. What made it even worse in a way that when her little sister started on solids, it was clear she did indeed enjoy her food. So I must have done something wrong when I started feeding Annabel.
It is easy to blame ourselves when we try so hard and it still doesn’t seem to be good enough. Having to deal with constant rejection when you cook nice meals can be soul destroying. You can go through many different emotions within just a day or during one meal time because your child refuses to eat on his/her plate.
I will not tell you that this is normal to make you feel better for a second as I know you will not believe me. I would not believe myself either. I will not tell you to give them a break or an ice cream! 🙂 What I will do is share all the little tricks I have tried along the way – or at least in the last 8 years. I hope you can find one or two things that may work for your little (or big) ones. If I come across anything else, I will update the list – as I am still keep trying!
Please let me know how you get on and leave a comment if you have found any of this useful or if you have a question for me.
If you think your child is not developing and putting weight on even though you have tried everything, please speak to your GP. They would weigh and measure your child and check that they are not lacking any nutrients or have any food intolerance that could affect them.
Twiddle Top Tips for parents of fussy eaters
Stop blaming yourself! – This is something I am still learning to do too! You are doing the best you can and this is enough.
Don’t give up! – You may not experience big changes, but small ones will come with time and perseverance. Keep doing what your guts tell you to, TRUST your own instincts!
Relax! (or just look away!) You got this! – I cannot actually believe I am writing these words! If you are a “stress-head” like my husband often calls me and cannot stay completely calm at the table, try looking away for a minute or pretend you haven’t heard any of your child’s complaints, at least for a couple of minutes. If you need to count in you head to 10, that’s OK, try it! I often find that Annabel just gets on with it, or at least I can have a couple of bites of my own tea before the argument starts.
- Meal planning: Plan your weekly meals and involve your children in the process if big enough to have this conversation. They can draw their favourite fruits and vegetables or plan a menu for the week. I know you already have an idea about their favourite food, but this will make them feel they do have a say and we all know how much children love a bit of control!
- Role plays: I often find pretending to feed a cuddly toy or making play-doh food for them helps to break the ice. You can just sit back and listen when they chat to their teddies, they might reveal the reason why certain food don’t appeal to them.
- No ipads, no mobiles: I have to admit, Peppa Pig helped me out many times when I was exhausted, or did not have enough time for long lunches. Big mistake, which actually I do think I shouldn’t have done. Meal times are for meals and not for gadgets. You should keep your phones out of reach too, and concentrate on eating, as you are showing an example the children will likely follow this.
- Nice clean table – Make sure your table is tidy and clean. This may sound obvious but if you have many toys and bits and bobs on sight, your children can easily get distracted.
- Food shopping – Take them! If you can, go to a farmer’s market or a local fruit shop and show them some interesting fruit or veg. You could ask them to pick the ingredients for tonight’s tea.
- Fruit picking – One of our favourite things to do is picking berries at the local farm. We have been doing this for years, even when Mia was in a buggy and just started walking. We make jam on the same day which the girls are really proud of, it also makes great Christmas present if you get to make enough. The girls also love tasting the berries while picking, so I always take a bottle of water with me to wash the berries.
- Grow your own – You don’t need much space and some herbs and veg you can grow inside. Children usually love gardening or planting seeds/ seedlings. It teaches them where veg/fruit comes from and also it will make them excited to watch their little plants grow. They will be more willing to try the carrot if they can pull it out of the soil themselves. If you only have space for a tomato plant or some herbs, I would still recommend you give it a go. Even smaller children can do this and will find it fascinating.
- Cook and bake with your children – You may have tried this already. Did you cook or bake what your children wanted or what you did? Ask them to pick something out of a cookbook and to help you cook or bake it. I have many children’s cookbook and in my frustrated moments I have asked my daughters to go and pick something they would actually eat. A few weeks ago I found Annabel reading a cookbook, picking a chocolate bun recipe then making most of it herself. I got to admit, I was very proud! Maybe next time she picks something a bit more healthy 🙂
- Sandwich or cookie cutters – It is worth buying a few of these, usually pretty cheap online. Alternatively if you have some larger cookie cutters, you could play and make some heart, star or bunny shaped sarnies. This has always made my girls smile and a little more willing to take a bite.
- Fruit forks – You can also get some cheap animal shapes fruit forks that makes any fruit or veg more appealing. I will add some photos to show you what I am talking about.
- Leave snacks out on the table – I also find that a fruit platter left on the coffee table while the girls are playing is more likely to disappear than if I sit them at the dining table and tell them to eat the fruit up. I tend to make a rainbow with the fruit and leave a few colourful forks out.
- Portion sizes – Don’t forget, their tummies are only little and using their palm size to measure out how much give them is a good guide. Leave some extra food on the table in the middle so everyone can take more if still hungry.
- Carrots in different shapes – Cut and serve veg and fruit in different shapes so that your children get used to the fact that for example carrots don’t always come in a circle. I like to grate them, make shavings with a peeler or cut them to sticks to make it more interesting and varied.
- Funny faces – Making faces with the mash, peas and chicken pieces will make your children smile and will help you start the dinner in a better mood. I often make flowers out of the veg, a smiley face or a lion, depending on what I have cooked.
- Notes in a lunch box – I used to put post-it notes in the girls lunch boxes, but since I have found some funny cards on Pinterest that I printed and laminated. You download animal jokes and nice little pictures with a short message. Definitely a winner, even if they leave the food, it will make them smile.
- Nice lunch box containers – Why don’t you let them pick a nice new lunch box? You can even have a picnic in your lounge, if you run out of ideas – if you don’t mind eating there. My girls LOVE getting a new sparkly box or drink bottle. It usually makes them a bit more interested for a little while, at least.
- Funky cutlery – You can get creative with this one. I am obsessed with FIMO and decorated a few forks for them. But if you haven’t got time or a creative blood, you can just buy some funky cutlery, for example you can even get their names engraved in these. There are many available online to choose from.
- Let them help – you to lay the table, to make their lunch boxes or prepare dinner! You will be setting a good example and they are likely to appreciate the effort that has gone in each meal you give them.