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Help: my baby is a fussy eater!

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Each mealtime has become an ordeal. My child refuses nearly everything I offer them . I'm concerned for their health . Can you suggest anything ?

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

Rest assured, no parent is spared this phenomenon: you have lovingly prepared a delicious meal and your baby refuses point blank to eat it. You're so disappointed! Which is normal, because as a good mother and provider , you hate to hear "no!", "uggh!" and "don't want it!". Plus, you feel guilty (I'm not a good cook, I'm not up to this, etc.). The big secret for getting through this period as calmly as possible is to disassociate between love versus education and food versus affection. Easy to say but not so easy in practice! However, our guide will help you though it and just remember: a child will never let themselves die of hunger. Phew!

UGGH! - is this supposed to mean something?

Around 18-24 months old, your child will start to assert their personality. If they realise that saying "no" upsets you, they will take every opportunity to push this button in order to make you understand that they are now capable of rebelling against your supremacy. This is the beginning of the classic "no phase", which is a normal stage in your child's psychomotor development. Normal but sometimes demanding, to say the least! In addition, this turning point period also signifies that your baby has lots of other things they would like to be doing other than eating. There are so many new things to discover, places to explore and games to play! Their refusals are therefore also an expression of their desire for independence.

Are all children the same at 2 years old?

You've probably realised speaking to friends that two-year olds have similar preferences when it comes to food:

  • An attraction to sweet, sugary flavours above all others.
  • An appetite for pasta, rice and potatoes.
  • Less keen on vegetables.
  • Reluctant to try new foods.

This phase is normal in every child and is called "food neophobia", or "fussy eating". Your child rejects any new food through wariness and fear of the unknown. It is more pronounced in some children than in others and usually disappears towards the age of 6 or 7. Therefore, let time and tide take their course, as they say!

Be patient and just remember that all mothers have to endure this phase. Having the upper hand over such a tiny person may seem straightforward to an outsider but in actual fact, you may soon feel at your wits' end! Be brave, hang in there!

Getting to know their appetite and tastes

Food neophobia and the no phase do not explain all refusals of food. Perhaps your baby was simply not that hungry that particular day. Appetite changes from day to day. A touch of tiredness or teething and your baby's appetite can shrink! Don't worry, your baby will eat everything they need and their health is not in danger as long as their growth rate continues to progress in a regular fashion.

Another possibility is that your baby really doesn't like the food you are offering (remember how you used to hate spinach!). After several refusals, you can assume that your baby's personal taste is telling them to despise this particular food. It doesn't matter, the overall balance of their diet won't be effected.

Also , don't forget that sometimes it is not necessarily the taste of the food but the stringy texture that the child may not like. 

Are there any crafty tactics I can use against my little "monster"?

Your baby has decided to rebel, clamps their mouth tight shut and is impervious to all your tactics ("neaow, here come's the aeroplane", "one spoonful for daddy", "this will make you big and strong", "once upon a time there was a beautiful prince who ate up all his soup", "ok, just the yoghurt then", etc.) Nothing is working! Don't panic, your baby has brought out the big guns, but you have a principal that works every time (or nearly every time): no blackmail or intimidation, and certainly no negotiation. Learn to be both firm and coherent: "you don't want it, ok, it doesn't matter. However, you won't get anything else but water until the next meal". Admittedly, it's not easy the first time! However, once your child realises they don't have a hold over you, they will understand that it is in their own interests to compromise.

Another important attitude to adopt: don't turn mealtimes into an emotional tug of war. They don't eat "to please you" but because it is a vital necessity which, happily, their taste buds find pleasing! Should I force my child to eat? Better to avoid head-on conflict. Just ask them to taste it and praise them for having done so, even if they didn't like it. Then offer the same food in a different form a few days later.

Another possibility: hand over to someone else. Sometimes your baby just wants to wind you up (and look, it's working!). So, ask Daddy to take over, or the childminder. Your baby will be more willing to try and even eat new foods, their diet will remain balanced and you won't need to worry any more! Meanwhile, you can take over again and relax with your child once the meal is finished.

Conditioning your child for a zen meal!

So as not to distract your little "fussy eater", turn off the TV during mealtimes and move any toys out of reach. Teach your child to concentrate on the colours, textures and flavours of their meal. "What colour is the carrot?"

Rather than presenting them with a full plate of food, which can be off-putting from someone with such a small appetite, arrange the meal into little portions. Also, pay attention to presentation: a funny plate and a special, colourful spoon will make the meal a lot more fun for your child!

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