Toddler fussy eaters: Small but significant solutions, one year on

My all-eating baby-led-weaned child went fussy, and for a while, it was a huge source of stress for me as a mother. Now, a year or so down the line, things are, I’d say, 50-60% better. Here are some of the tiny solutions that have added up to an improved situation

Hello chickpea webFrom great beginnings…

She was such a great eater! It was so satisfying feeding her as a baby. I can honestly say I don’t know what happened. Maybe she got ill with colds a lot and it affected her tastebuds, and that kind of coincided with a doctor saying her weight was low and we should put more butter on her food…

Unpalateable situations

…little by little, she got pickier, and we started to cajole more and bargain more, until mealtimes were an hour-long challenge to manipulate food consumption, aided by imaginary dinosaurs that needed feeding, and awful trade-offs of highly colourful kiddie fromage frais as eating incentives. Right where I didn’t want to end up.

Sometimes I’d leave the room, I found it so stressful. We didn’t know what to do. She wouldn’t eat any food that was combined. She loved junk, like cheap sausages, hated our wonderful cooking, and was sweet-obsessed.

Personal platefuls

Plus, it was an affront to my motherhood. I, the feeder, the provider, the one who shows love through nourishment, was being rejected. Ouch!

And now

It’s not perfect, but we have family meals, and I’m relaxed enough to enjoy eating my own plateful of food. Here’s some of what we did:

  1. I asked her nursery to give me daily feedback about how she’d eaten. I realised she might eat completely differently with peers than at the family table. This was really reassuring – they almost always told me she’d eaten a really hearty lunch.
  2. I used my bread machine to make bread with ground almonds or seeds in for protein, and grated carrot or courgette in it. So that if supper wasn’t liked, I could offer bread and butter and know that was a ’rounded’ fix for my kid.
  3. I started to make less suppers especially for my fussy child and more ‘composite’ kind of suppers, where all the selection is on the table and you can take what you like. For example, baked potatoes with a variety of fillings. I hope that by her things being among ours, she’ll ask to try ours – and she does, sometimes.
  4. Our fussy child particularly hates food that’s combined (like, pasta with sauce, risotto…) so I bought her a plate with different sections, she enjoys mixing things herself, and choosing what to have in each section.
  5. I involve her in shopping (she’s good) and cooking (I’m stressed by this) when I can. I mostly don’t have time and patience for it, but she can put toppings on a pizza and feel proud of it when we all eat it.
  6. I agreed with my husband an internal guideline that we’d no longer chase them round the house with a spoon or half-eaten food, no longer cajole, if they said they are full, we’d try to accept it. I still find this very difficult (for example if she outrageously announces “full” after two mouthfuls when she’s clearly just interested in playing) and sometimes we do still bargain – “two mouthfuls of this for something you like”. Not ideal, but improved.
  7. We elevated the quality of our food. Over the course of about a year, we’ve spent more on food across the board, done away with processed foods which were definitely our daughter’s preference. We still buy some convenience foods but make them bio fish fingers (Kaiser’s), bio wurstchen (from the big bio shops); bio pizza. Our daughter discovered a love of bio vanilla yoghurt, sometimes with apfelmuss, so we stopped buying those little crappy kiddy fromage frais which were the highlight of her mealtimes. (If you need to lobby your partner over this, or still need convincing that buying better food is worth the extra money, the reasons are spelled out in Marc David’s The Slow Down Diet. The short of it is, better food satisfies your body better, so you don’t keep craving more and more and more.)
  8. Our daughter was obsessed with chocolate and sweets, and I wanted to demystify them a bit (I came from quite a sugar-restricted household and struggled to control my sugar compulsions later on), so I made a treat jar (if she gets sweets at a party they all go in there, sometimes I buy slightly healthier bio shop little biscuits or chocolates), so she has a sense of abundance and that they are there for her. She can have a couple every day at a set time (after kita, or after her lunchtime sleep). I think that’s really working! She knows when to expect them and doesn’t pester for them at other times.
  9. I made it my mantra: “My job as a mother is to provide good food. My child’s job is to decide whether and what she wants to eat”. Mostly, I live by that mantra. Sometimes I get stressed, that’s natural, my husband is pretty good at stepping in and helping her relax around food at those times.
  10. I’ve bought a book. It’s called Child of Mine: Feeding with love and good sense, because another mum raved about it. Let’s see where that takes us.

Experiencing fussiness? Found any small or big solutions? Pitch in in the comment section below.