At the moment, my daughters are going through another ‘picky eating’ phase. I say ‘phase’ because I know that is what it is, yet it seems to go on forever! Handling it can be hard. Family mealtime struggles can be very stressful situations, especially for new parents. When your baby or toddler constantly refuses to eat it is so frustrating! My eldest daughter who is 4, is currently refusing everything except Peanut Butter on Toast, and my youngest who is 2, needs bribing to eat every mouthful. It often feels like the entire universe is reduced to that small bowl filled with untouched food.
Family mealtime struggles are nothing new or unique. Babies, little children and teenagers have high chances of going through periods when any type of food seems to be dull and unattractive. When it comes to babies and toddlers the situation is a bit more stressful because there are lots of parents who believe that the child’s well-being is determined by the amount of food they eat. My ethos, and that of Tutti Bimbi is to try to eat as healthily as we can, but when your child is refusing, what can you do?
The Main Reasons for Fussy Eating or Refusing to Eat
There are various reasons and causes for a baby or child to be refusing to eat. These might be:
- They find the dish unappetizing
- They are simply not hungry
- They do not have a regular eating pattern
- They are feeling ill
- They are being mischievous (my main issue!)
- It is a ‘phase’ of their development where they are re-evaluating everything and testing the boundaries
- They are copying behaviours seen by other babies and children
Sometimes it is just a case of it being a ‘phase’ and given time, they will return to normal eating habits. It is important to go through the above checklist however as it is normal for a child who is ill to lose their appetite and refuse even the dishes they like the best. Therefore it is paramount that children should never be forced into eating. I did this once when I didn’t know better, and my baby threw it all up 10 minutes later. Instead, check the baby’s temperature and look for any signs of food allergy. Consult your pediatrician if the situation worsens.
Parents have to face numerous family mealtime episodes once the baby becomes a toddler. It is normal for children to be very particular when it comes to their food and how they eat it. They may want only certain dishes, they want the food to be arranged in a specific manner and they have endless mealtime rituals (like eating only from a certain bowl, with a certain “red” spoon or accompanied by their favorite stuffed animal). Although frustrating for parents, this is a normal stage in your child’s development.
Tips for Overcoming Mealtime Struggles
Family mealtime struggles can be overcome if the parents stay calm and apply various tactics to encourage proper eating. Obviously an entire lecture on the health benefits of fruit and vegetables will not work with a toddler, but games, stories and food arranged in funny ways can convince even the fussiest baby to eat the food so carefully prepared by the parents. See our bank of tips on http://www.pinterest.com/tuttibimbibaby/tips-for-fussy-eaters/. Here are our top 6 tips:
- Taste the Food Yourself
Parents should try the food to see if it is tasty and “edible”. If an adult does not want to eat the food, you cannot expect a toddler to find it yummy and delicious, nor to devour it in a couple of minutes. Try complimentary combinations and, if your baby is old enough, spices and herbs can be added to the food in order to make it more appetizing.
- Make the Food More Appealing
If the child hates broccoli, peas or Brussels sprouts (which it is quite bitter but full of vitamins), there is no reason to force the child into eating them. Instead, try to make them more appealing by modeling eating them yourself and enjoying them. Babies and children often respond very positively to role models. Another method is to make the food look exciting and interesting to eat.
- Keep Calm and Positive
Parents can decide when the baby sleeps, plays and what kind of clothes it wears, but the baby has full command over his mouth, and only he can decide when to open it. Babies might want to test their parents’ limits, play or just spend some extra minutes with their mothers and fathers who are always on the rush. Just stay relaxed and positive, knowing that they just want to spend time with you.
- Play hide and seek
If the child hates a food item, which is full of vitamins then this should be hidden in a dish that the child adores. For example leek, which is high in vitamins but has a strong taste. A child who refuses it constantly might end up eating it without the slightest protest if small pieces of leek are hidden among some pasta sauce.
- Give them the chance to choose
Family mealtime struggles can be avoided if the little one is allowed to choose from the food items on the table. Put various healthy food items in front of your baby and give him the opportunity to choose the most appealing fruit or veggies. Always remember: the baby will eat, if he is hungry.
- Stop Making Comparisons
Does it really matter how much the child next door eats? Each child has different needs. Also, the same child might eat more in the morning and less or nothing when dinner time arrives. It is easy to put an end to family mealtime struggles if you just focus on your own child’s needs and preferences, and don’t worry about others.