How To Help Your Child Through A Fussy Eating Phase

It's a basic instinct for parents to feed their young, so when your child suddenly starts refusing food, it can be a distressing and frustrating experience. However, this is an entirely normal stage of development which often occurs when the child is about 2 years old, and in the vast majority of cases it passes soon enough.

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Nonetheless, there is a lot you can do as a parent to make this phase easier for all concerned by gently encouraging your toddler to adopt a more adventurous approach to eating.

1

Make Meals A Family Occasion

Make Meals A Family Occasion

It can be difficult fitting this into today's busy lifestyles, but when possible, try to eat as a family rather than have separate mealtimes for children. This not only puts meals into an enjoyable social setting, but it also gives your toddler a chance to learn by example.

Seeing adults enjoy a wide range of foods can be an excellent way of encouraging experimentation, so try and serve meals that are enjoyable for the entire family rather than different foods for children and grown-ups. If the meals can be served from a central bowl to enhance the sense of communal dining, then all the better.

2

Carrot Rather Than Stick

Carrot Rather Than Stick

Try and remain positive by rewarding good eating rather than being angry or frustrated with yet another rejection. That's easier said than done, but as every parent knows, young children can be remarkably stubborn, so don't give them the chance dig their heels in over the issue.

3

Make Meals Tactile

Make Meals Tactile

The enjoyment children get from making a mess is clear in many a situation, so why exclude mealtimes from this? Foods that can be easily eaten with hands provide a tactile aspect to the meal, making it more fun.

While you may be keen to instill good table manners in your child, at this stage in development, that's likely to be a losing battle anyway. Take advantage of the natural inclination to explore foods through touch as well as taste.

4

Allow Some Choice

Allow Some Choice

Giving your child an element of choice in what they eat will appeal to their growing sense of independence and encourage them to eat more willingly.

This doesn't necessarily mean treating them like a restaurant customer and cooking each meal to order, but providing a selection of foods on the table for each meal will give them freedom within the limits you set.

This can be as simple as providing a basic salad and a garlic bread alongside a bowl of pasta, for example.

5

Limit Portion Sizes

Limit Portion Sizes

A small child can easily be overwhelmed by a large serving of food, especially if they're not particularly hungry to start with. It's far better to provide a smaller portion which can be easily finished, and then offer an extra helping if necessary.

6

Have A Dessert

Have A Dessert

Although trying to bribe your child with sweet foods is likely to be counterproductive, giving an after-meal treat as a reward for a good effort on the main course should be a normal part of the meal. Just be sure to not make too much fuss over it, nor over withholding it if it hasn't been earned.

A Few Mistakes To Avoid

A Few Mistakes To Avoid

While taking the positive steps above will, along with the passage of time, usually solve the problem, there are several common mistakes that tend to just make matters worse:

  • Don't turn the situation into a battle of wills. Part of this developmental stage is about your child establishing an element of control and independence, and trying to block this outright will only escalate tensions.
  • Don't be tempted to bribe or cajole your child if they're refusing to eat; just accept that it isn't going to happen that mealtime. It's unlikely to be a problem unless it develops into a consistent pattern of behavior, and turning it into a big deal increases the chances of exactly that happening. Whether the food refusal is through simple lack of appetite or something more rebellious, the chances are your little one will make amends at the next opportunity to eat.
  • Never reward your child for refusing food by replacing the meal with a favorite alternative, unless the dish refused was a new one that was tried and genuinely disliked. Tempting as it is to ensure that something (anything) is eaten, once a child finds out that they have the power to summon their best-loved foods on a whim, they'll use the ability whenever they can.
  • Don't insist on a clean plate before your child leaves the table. The fact that so many people can recall this happening in their formative years is testament to the deep, lasting effect it can have. If your toddler is already fussy with food, the effect is unlikely to be a positive one, turning mealtimes into a trial rather than a pleasant experience.
  • Don't restrict the range of food you serve the rest of your family simply to fit in with your fussy child's preferences. Instead, try and include at least one item within the meal that you know will be acceptable, but not to the exclusion of rejected foods. It's good for your child to see others eating a wide variety of foodstuffs, and as their tastes will change over time, you don't want to close off the opportunity for retrying something previously refused.

If the situation doesn't improve after a month or two, and you're still worried, start keeping a diary of everything your child eats, and review it after a week. Hopefully, when seen in overview, it'll be clearer that the diet is healthier than you thought and includes sufficient variety, even if individual mealtimes are sometimes difficult. This diary will also be helpful to show to a doctor if you decide you need to seek professional help.

Conclusion

Remember that being fussy about food is a perfectly normal stage children go through while they develop their own tastes and settle into being their own person. If you pay attention to preferences but don't allow yourself to be ruled by them, in 99 percent of cases the situation will resolve itself as your little one gets older and more confident in their eating habits.

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