10 Tips For Fussy Eaters - Guest Blog with Kylie Camps
We know how frustrating it can be dealing with fussy eaters, so we called in the amazing Kylie Camps, Sleep Consultant and Director of the Kind Parenting Company to share her tips and tricks.
The Kind Parenting Company specialises in evidence based parenting methods with a kind approach.They provide safe, practical and effective techniques and support through innovative online programs. Their mission is to make parenting more enjoyable.
Kylie is also a proud mama of 6 year old twin boys!
Here are her tips below, and be sure to follow her here on Instagram or here at The Kind Parenting Company for more valuable advice and guidance.
Words by Kylie Camps...
Living with fussy eaters can be a wild ride and over the years I have learned a few tips and tricks from a variety of experts, however, the one thing I can honestly say that helps is time. I know that is not the ideal answer, because it is not something I can bottle up and give you, but honestly in some cases it is more about waiting, staying positive and being patient.
If you have concerns regarding the volume and variety your child consumes, we do recommend parents explore this with a Paediatrician. Depending on where you live you may also have access to government run programs to assist in improving your child’s willingness to try new foods. To find out more about the resources you have available locally please speak with a doctor.
1. INVOLVE YOUR CHILD IN COOKING AND PREPARING FOOD
Toddler’s love to help and inviting your child to help prepare a meal or snack can encourage a positive attachment to food. It can be a way to help your little one touch foods they may have aversions to. It can also foster a sense of pride and accomplishment.
One of the ways I can get a few vegetables into the boys is by having them help cut up the vegetables themselves. Zucchini’s can still be cut with a dull or plastic knife and the boys feel very special standing on a stool to help. I find making pizzas with the boys to be a relatively easy task, they can choose the vegetable toppings and add cheese. Of course, always supervise your child and be mindful of hot pans, oil and sharp utensils. You may even find that asking your child to pour the pasta into an empty saucepan before it is cooked may spark some interest.
2. ONE BITE PER YEAR OLD
Encourage your two-year-old to take 2 really big bites of a certain food. One for each year, so three for a three a year old and so on. Many toddlers respond well when they have an end in clear view, rather than a never-ending meal, a few bites may seem manageable when counting them out.
3. FOOD PLAY IS A GREAT TACTIC
I know we have always been told not to play with our food and I would not encourage this at dinner time, but at a completely separate time to meal or snack time engage your child in some stress-free food play. Often toddlers have aversions to different textures, smells and the appearance of food. By creating food play without expectation, you can create a safe space for your toddler to test the waters of new textures and smells and looks! It is important to have minimal expectations for this activity, which can be hard when you go to the effort of setting it all up but little by little when exposed to the activity regularly you may just see some improvements and willingness to join in. I suggest doing this outside, if weather and space permits, and if not, then indoors on a surface that can be easily mopped. Even a disposable tablecloth can be utilised as a drop sheet of sorts. Choose a few food items that you know your child would not willingly eat.
We chose canned spaghetti, jelly and creamed rice. Tip the chosen foods into large bowls or containers and a few toys or utensils such as spoons or measuring cups. Begin playing in the food and ask your child if they want to join in. They may prefer to stand on the sidelines and that is okay! It can still be valuable, talk to your child about what you are experiencing. Describe the sensations in a positive and light-hearted way such as “Oh this jelly feels so squishy and when I squeeze it tight it creeps out of my hand!” or “this spaghetti smells like tomatoes! It feels cold in my hand”. Once your child can relax into food play you may even find him or her testing out the food, and any parent of a fussy eater knows the joy of their child tasting a new food willingly.
4. EARLY DINNER’S WHERE POSSIBLE CAN BE HELPFUL
Often a fussy eating toddler will get to dinner time and be absolutely exhausted and this only amplifies food aversion. Many little ones are dropping their day sleep or have completely dropped it at this age and therefore, they are running on empty by the evening. If you can, we suggest trialling an earlier dinner. This can help combat the battle with a fatigued toddler as well as create a longer window of time. I know with our boys, if they had dinner past 5:30pm it was a much bigger battle. It would also mean I was more on their case too as an hour would go by I would become aware of how close bedtime was, but when we moved their dinner a bit earlier it meant I could give them more time, less nagging to finish and they were not falling asleep at the table. It may not be an option for you every day due to day-care and work commitments but try it out over the weekend and see if it makes a difference to mealtime.
5. SMALLER SERVINGS CAN HELP A TODDLER FEEL MORE INCLINED TO ATTEMPT A MEAL
A large serving may be off putting and seem impossible. If your little one manages to eat a full serving, he or she will feel a sense of accomplishment. “Picking plates” can be great too and these involve a plate with a small selection of different foods.
6. PRAISE FOR TRYING CAN HELP TO MAKE MEALTIME A POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
Rather than focusing on the left-over food or your child’s defiance, focus on that one bite they took. I know it might not seem like cause for celebration but to a child who really does not want to try anything new it is a big deal. Recognise the effort and not the outcome. Even if they spit part of it out you can say “I am proud of you for trying”.
7. EATING AS A FAMILY CAN PROMOTE A HAPPIER MEALTIME
It is common for families to fall into the habit of eating without their children. I know Matt and I definitely fell into this because we were in the pattern of eating our dinner together once the boys went down for the night. It is a nice chance to check in with each other and enjoy a child free meal, but we realised we were not exposing the boys to Matt and I eating a variety of foods or the volume we would consume. It is important to model the habits you wish to see in your children and with the boys not really seeing us eat a proper meal, it may very well have contributed to their fussiness. We changed things up and started eating as a family and serving the boys up with a mini version of the meals we would eat. As often as you can, make mealtime a family affair and all enjoy a meal together. If you do prefer to eat your dinner once your little one is in bed, perhaps try having a mini meal or an entree size serving with your children. Focus on conversation and making mealtime enjoyable. You may even find just altering the way you have dinner can help, such as having a picnic on a blanket or eating outdoors.
8. EXPOSE LITTLE ONES TO NEW FOODS
Having themed meals such as a Japanese night with homemade sushi or a visit to an Italian restaurant. This can make mealtime more engaging and fun!
9. FOOD PAIRING
This is an approach you may like to try. It means to partner a new food up with a firm favourite. If you know your child loves a toasted sandwich try serving half with a side of pasta or if your son or daughter loves grated cheese, try sprinkling this on top of pasta. Food pairing can help a meal seem more palatable and enticing. You may even find once he or she starts eating their favourite food they move to the next item.
10. HELPING LITTLE ONES TO UNDERSTAND WHAT FOOD AND WATER DOES FOR OUR BODY
This can be modified depending on your toddlers age. It is a great way to help your child establish a connection with food as an energy source as well as enjoyment. Talk with your little one about the benefits of different foods in a simple way such as “this smoothie is going to help you have lots of energy for playing” or “You know how a car needs fuel? Food is fuel for us!”, “If a car runs out of fuel it will not be able to drive well, and it will end up staying very still. We need fuel for all of our activities like painting and playing at the park!”. You can even talk about good fats helping our brain or protein helping our muscles. When your son or daughter chooses to eat a small amount of food or perhaps indulges in too many sweets and you notice he or she is running out of steam or complains of a tummy ache or headache, it can be a great chance to jump in and help them connect the dots between food and feelings. We don’t want to scare our kids or label foods as bad but we can certainly talk about how party food is a sometimes food because our bodies don’t need it every day and sometimes it can cause a tummy ache, to feel sleepy or to feel a bit silly. After a good meal talk about how happy they appear to be and how much energy they have, such as: “Wow, you were really listening at soccer today and I saw you trying your best! I think that great breakfast gave you some extra energy! Imagine if you ate even more tomorrow?”.
BONUS ADVICE: STAY POSITIVE
Staying positive can be hard when you are exhausted yourself from trying endlessly and you may feel as though you are making no progress, but don’t throw in the towel! Try not to take meal refusal personally. Tracking your progress (or even lack of) can be helpful as a way of recording what you have tried. Often improvements come with age and consistency. You may like to speak with other parents in a similar situation to gain support and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.