Kathryn and Catherine discuss taking the stress out of mealtimes and some practical tips on feeding the little ones
We have always been about helping to take the stress out of mealtimes by giving children the tools they need to succeed in eating confidently and independently. Since our journey began, we’ve met many parents with stories of fussy eaters and the stress this can contribute to mealtimes. This is such a common issue, so we’ve chatted to Catherine Lippe, registered Nutritionist, specialising in children’s nutrition, and asked for some top tips to help if your little one is at this stage and you feel meal times are turning into a battle.
Fussy Eating Tips - Do’s and Don’ts
As a parent there is nothing more frustrating than offering your child a lovingly prepared, nutritious meal only for them to turn their nose up or push the plate without even trying it. In all my years as a paediatric nutritionist it’s the one concern I come across time and time again. “Help! My child won’t eat!” Whether your child refuses fruits, vegetables, new foods, foods of a certain colour or texture or all of the above, take a look at my do’s and don’ts guide to dealing with fussy eating…
- Don’t expect your toddler to eat too much. If your toddler shows you signs that they have had enough be careful not to push them to eat more.
- Don’t fill up on fluids between meals. Drinking too many fluids, particularly milk (including night feeds) and juice can spoil your child’s appetite.
- Don’t fill up on too many snacks. If you have a fussy eater it is tempting to allow them to snack to their hearts content throughout the day but remember; even if they are snacking on healthy foods, too many snacks will spoil your toddler’s appetite for food at the next mealtime.
- Don’t let mealtimes drag on. 20-30 minutes is about right. If they haven’t eaten much within this time they are not likely to so call it a day and remove any uneaten food without a fuss.
- Don’t force your toddler to eat. Force feeding can make children feel upset and frustrated and they may begin to associate mealtimes with these feelings.
- Don’t give your child attention when they don’t eat. This can encourage them to refuse the food in order to get your attention. Even the attention of a cross parent is better than no attention at all!
- Don’t offer an alternative meal if the initial dish is refused. I can’t emphasise this enough. Offering alternative dishes will soon teach your child that it is acceptable to refuse the food you want them to eat and before you know if you’ve prepared 2 or 3 different meals for them.
- Don’t offer puddings/sweets or other food ‘treats’ as a reward for finishing the main meal. Your toddler will begin to associate these ‘treats’ as the preferred food or the reward. Use star charts or stickers or even verbal praise or special playtime as a reward instead.
- Don’t feel guilty if one mealtime turns into a disaster. Put it behind you and approach the next meal time positively.
- Develop a regular feeding routine of three main meals and 2-3 healthy snacks daily. Aim to offer meals and snacks at roughly the same time each day. Children like routine and will feel more comfortable if they know when to expect food.
- Be a good role model. Your child will be more likely to try new foods or eat well if other children and adults around them are doing so. If you turn your nose up at a food your child is likely to do the same.
- Offer small portions. It’s tempting to overload the plate in the hope that your child will eat just a small amount but be careful; over filling the plate can be overwhelming for a fussy eater and may put them off trying any food at all.
- Praise your child when they eat well or try a new food. Verbal praise or using star charts or stickers is a great way to reinforce good behaviour.
- Avoid distractions at mealtimes. Distracting children with their favourite programme, iPad or toy whilst you sneak a few spoonful’s of food into their mouth means your child is not actually aware of what they are eating and will not solve their fussy eating long term. Turn off the TV and tidy away toys so they can focus on the mealtime.
- Remove any uneaten food after 20-30 minutes without creating a fuss or making any negative comments. Even if your toddler hasn’t eaten anything you should remove the food, place it in the fridge, and offer a healthy snack at the next scheduled snack time. If your child is hungry before the next snack time you should offer them the refused food from the fridge.
- Allow your child to feed themselves. From 12 months children are usually capable of feeding themselves and will enjoy having control over the food they eat. They are likely to feel more confident and comfortable making mealtimes a more pleasant experience for them.
As with many parenting challenges it’s important to be consistent. Take each mealtime one at a time and remember to set yourself realistic targets. Your child won’t grow out of fussy eating overnight but persevering with these tips may just see your child eating those foods you thought they would never touch.
She has over 10 years’ experience as a Registered Nutritionist and has worked in both the private and public sectors including the NHS and Public Health England. Now with two young boys of her own, Catherine now works as a freelance consultant paediatric nutritionist offering families, individual's, early years settings and schools practical, tailored advice on many aspects of nutrition. You can read more advice and support on fussy eating from Catherine at:
FB: Catherine Lippe Nutrition