It’s always an exciting milestone when your little one starts on solids – but it also comes with a wide array of challenges. There’s the mess (that almost seems to be never-ending!), the worry (what foods can and can’t I give them?) and most importantly, the constant refusals. Babies can be some of the pickiest eaters who turn their noses up at everything, especially when combined with their moodiness, leading to struggles and tantrums at mealtimes.
To overcome the challenges of fussy eating, it’s important to try understand your little one’s reluctance; only then can we effectively combat it with different strategies. By instilling balanced eating from an early age, you set your child up for healthy eating habits later down the road!
Why are babies and toddlers fussy eaters?
Children can be fussy eaters for a wide variety of different reasons. For some, it’s merely a normal developmental stage they’re going through – perhaps their weight gain is slowing, or they’re practising their independence, or they’re discovering what tastes and textures they like and don’t like. Some little ones might be fussy eaters simply because they’re born with an inherited sensitivity to certain flavours!
It’s also pretty normal if your mini likes something one day but rejects it the next. As they grow, you will find that their eating habits can change from day to day. You might worry that your child isn’t eating enough when they’re so picky, but don’t stress about it too much as long as they’re happy, active and healthy.
How do I feed a picky eater?
As well as setting up a foundation for your baby’s healthy eating habits later, overcoming your baby’s picky eating can also make mealtimes much more manageable. Here are some of our tips for dealing with your fussy bub!
1. Encourage new, diverse tastes and textures at an earlier age
Chances are that if you or your partner were super picky eaters back in childhood (or if you still are!), then your child will also probably a picky eater. Fussy eating can partly be a genetic thing. To try and overcome this, you can offer your little one a wide range of foods with different tastes and textures on a day-to-day basis from six months onwards. The earlier you encourage them to try a more diverse range of food, the more likely they are to accept new or different foods as they get older.
2. Be a role model for their eating habits
Children learn by copying those around them, so it’s vital for you as their parent to set a good example – especially when it comes to eating! By enjoying different kinds of food in front of your little one, they too will want to try what you’re eating. This works particularly well in a family setting as well. If everyone around your baby is eating a range of different foods, your baby will want to do the same thing too!
3. Try, try and try again
If you’ve dealt with a fussy eater, you’ll be all too familiar with your baby spitting food back out almost as soon as you feed it to them. This can get incredibly frustrating – not to mention gross and messy as well. But keep trying – apparently it can take up to ten exposures or even more before your child accepts a new food. You may find that persistence pays off, so don’t give up!
At the same time, remember not to force them to eat if they’re very reluctant to try something new. Stay away from tactics like nagging or bribing, as it can make your child even more unwilling to accept new foods. It’s important to stay calm and collected – if they reject it, take it away and try again another day. And if they do eat it, praise and encourage them for their actions. Positive reinforcement can be incredibly effective for promoting good behaviours from an early age!
4. Too much drinking before meals
You might feel like your child is a fussy eater, but the reality could be because they’ve been drinking too much before they eat. All that fluid quickly fills up their tiny tummies and makes then not hungry at all – so you may want to try limiting their milk to 500ml a day.
5. Encourage self-feeding and provide choices
By giving your baby control over eating their food and providing a range of options for them to choose from, you may find that your little one is more willing to try new things than they would otherwise if you were spoon-feeding them. They become more open to experimentation as they’re now allowed to pick up the foods that intrigue them by themselves, feel the texture, taste the different flavours and choose how much they want to eat. Be prepared for the potential mess, though – but don’t let that stop you!
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6. Introduce new foods with familiar foods
If you introduce a whole bunch of new food to your baby all at once, it can be a little daunting – even as an adult! A useful strategy to slowly ease them into trying new things is to pair something you know they already love with something they haven’t tried before. Does your little one love pureed carrots? Add a little broccoli in there too, if they still haven’t tried it. Do you have a tiny pasta fiend? Serve it with a new vegetable and their favourite sauce. At least you’ll know if they turn down the new food, they still have other things on their plate to enjoy!
7. Make food fun and exciting
The saying that you eat first with your eyes is just as true for babies as it is for grownups. When plating up your little one’s food, make it fun and interesting for them! Create happy faces with different fruits and vegetables, or use a knife or special bento stamps to cut food into interesting shapes – the possibilities are endless! The more appealing it looks to your little one, the more likely they are to try it out.
If your baby or toddler is exhibiting concerning symptoms such as weight loss, digestive issues or fatigue, seek advice from your doctor or medical professional. There are rare instances where what seems like fussy eating can actually be a much more serious issue – so it’s best to consult the professionals if you’re unsure.
Hopefully these tips prove useful and help you transform the dining area from a battleground to a fun, stress-free experience for both you and your bub. All the best, mamas!