Many parents find themselves up against a picky eater and we have had to deal with this problem with a couple of our children. We soon realised even the youngest of toddlers can be quite stubborn when it comes to what they will and will not eat and it's not easy to always make sure that they're getting their balanced diet. For the parents of the child who is overly fussy with food, mealtimes can become quite the battleground.
Over the years I have tried several methods when dealing with those of my children who were quite adamant about what they would and would not eat. Here are some tried and tested tips that might help you with your own picky eater:
Don't make a fuss
Toddlers will often do something to see the reaction it receives so try to keep things calm and don't make a fuss. Attention, be it good or bad, is still attention and if your toddler realises that by not eating he gets more of the limelight, he'll continue to take centre stage.
There has been a lot of talk lately on how few families sit together at mealtimes. Make at least one meal a day a time for all the family to sit and eat together around the table. We found our children are more likely to sit at the table if the television is turned off in the next room and there are no other distractions. Turning mealtimes into a special family time makes a lot of difference compared to eating in front of the television unaware of anyone or anything around you.
Introduce new foods when your toddler is not tired
Introducing a new food during the evening meal might bring more resistance from your toddler than normal. During the later part of the day our younger children are likely to be getting tired from the long day they have had and a weary toddler is not one that can be easily reasoned with! We found that if we want to introduce a new food to them, it's better to do so earlier on during the day where we find they're more perceptive to trying something different.
Lead by example
Toddlers are more likely to try something new if they see you eating it too. Telling him to eat something but not being willing to eat it yourself sends out mixed signals to him. Practice what you preach and lead by example. My children tend to want whatever I am eating rather than what is on their own plate. For some reason a stick of cucumber tastes better when it's somebody else's to take!
Pick your battles
Try and work out whether your child is just being a little wilful or whether he really doesn't like the taste of something. If there is a food in particular which your child is adamant that they won't eat or one which causes a particularly negative reaction would it really be that difficult to avoid it? Pick your battles. I have found that it's okay to compromise and let him "win" a smaller one every now and then. It also gives me a better chance of negotiating in future.
Turn to finger foods
Toddlers tend to like grazing. They have so much to do and see that sitting for any length of time might not be a priority for them. Maybe it's not that they don't want to eat but that they just want to be up and about and doing all the many things that they think is far more important to do. Allowing them to take food with them to eat while they play or wander around might take some of the friction out of mealtimes. Making foods your toddler can grab and carry such as oaty flapjacks, homemade cereal bars, cucumber or carrot sticks or breakfast muffins such as these ones I make for my own children, will help make sure that he is still getting a nutritious diet even if he won't sit down for a full meal.
Involve your toddler
Allowing your toddler to share their opinion on what they would like to eat or in preparing the meal makes them feel more involved. Giving him a choice between a baked potato or pasta will make him feel that he has had some input. Even better is to allow him to "help" to get dinner ready. Washing vegetables, measuring ingredients or turning the tap on and off to fill a pan will all make him feel involved and important. My children are more willing to try a meal that they "helped" to make.
The general rule with children is that they will push their boundaries to see where the limits lie and mealtimes are no exception. The good news is that in many cases, children do grow out of their fussiness. However, as we have found, it will probably take some guidance and perseverance from mum and dad to get there!