When Nicola and I started Happy Tums, we were adamant that having our support group was essential to the success of the business – and we still feel that now. It is great to be able to help all our parents on a continual basis with any of their weaning queries. Recently, I have noticed that as our “Happy Tumers” (our name for all the babies we have supported!) are getting older, the questions which come up on our support group are around how to deal with “fussy eating” And so, I hope this blog will go some way to answer some of the questions that some of you are frequently dealing with as our little people begin to grow and develop and without a doubt, test our boundaries!
The development of food preferences begins very early, even before birth and babies are born with a preference for sweet tastes – breast milk has the predominant sweet taste quality which our little ones love. Sweetness is also an indication of calories and therefore nutrition so evolution has meant that sweet flavours in a food are a good thing for survival. On the a similar note, babies are also born with an evolutionary sense that bitter flavours which are more commonly associated with vegetables, are dangerous as the bitterness can be associated with toxins. So, although babies readily accept fruits because of their sweetness, they will reject some veg until they are sure they are safe to eat.
Research has shown that babies learn to like foods which are familiar to them so it is so important to keep offering the same foods that they may at first reject. If they reject carrots for instance the first time they try them, if they are never offered carrots again because they didn’t like them the first time, it is likely that they will never eat them! And remember, it can take babies 15-20 times to actually like a food so it is important to keep offering time and time again. (Incidentally, I am 38 and hate brussel sprouts, I was encouraged every Christmas to “just have one” and believe me, I still can’t stand them so sometimes it’s time to throw in the towel!)
Fussy or picky eating comes in many guises, from plain refusing to eat, constant cries of “I don’t like it” to screaming for something else, to throwing food across the floor, to smearing it all over the table or in this house at the moment, offering it to the dog! As our fiery ones get older and their development progresses in every way, so does their ability to try and exert their power as well as test ours! This will almost certainly happen for you all at some stage and the important thing is how to deal with it. Here are my tips based on my first-hand experience of this at the moment as well reading of lots of interesting articles around this subject.
Ignore behaviour such as crying because they “don’t like it” when you know that last week they wolfed down the same food. If this protestation happens, calmly say “ok, don’t eat it then” and carry on chatting with them and doing what you were doing. When they see that they are not going to get a reaction, they might get bored (and hungry) and eat. If they carry on, remove the plate and let them get down from the table without making a fuss.
Don’t offer an alternative of something they you know they like. This is going to cause so many issues in the future as they will learn that if they refuse a meal, they get something yummy.
Don’t bribe or reward them. This teaches them that they can control the food they eat and this in the future is going to cause more issues as they will learn to exploit this new found power!
Never use distractions such as the TV or IPad during mealtimes as this teaches children that food is to be rushed and not really enjoyed as their minds will be elsewhere. It won’t create a good relationship with food at all and they will start to expect that every time they eat, they get to watch something.
Sit together. It is really important that we try and sit with our little ones at mealtimes and that we eat something too. It is likely that you might not have the same mealtimes as your children, but you could still have a small portion of what they are having. Children love role-models and if they see you enjoying the food, they will hopefully do the same.
If you have more than 1 child eating at the same time, praise the one who is eating well so the one who isn’t, sees the attention their siblings or friends are getting. Children thrive on praise. By nature, children can be quite competitive so if I praise Francesca for eating well, Jack can quite often decide to eat to “be better than his sister”! He recently had a friend over for lunch and started to moan about his food. His friend tucked in with gusto and very quickly Jack stopped his whinging and also tucked in! A simple acknowledge of “wow look Jack, Archie is eating so well” was all it took! (Thanks Archie!!)
Be careful of the size of the portions you are offering. A huge plate of food can be a bit off-putting for some children so start with smaller portions and once they have finished that, offer more.
Colours and variety is also important. Children love bright colours so make sure that there are lots of different brightly coloured, textured foods on the plate and experiment with different shapes. We love the company One Handed Cooks so check out their website for some really great ideas of how to make food look cool!
Remember that your children won’t starve! Think about what would happen if you didn’t eat a meal or even 2, you wouldn’t starve, it would just make you hungrier for your next meal and this is the same for our children.
In 2016, there is so much “junk food” available in the supermarkets aimed at children than ever before which is so annoying! The low prices, promotions, association with toys, extensive marketing makes it so much harder for our children to not be “indoctrinated” by the lure of high sugar and salt foods which for kids, taste really good. So, of course they are going to want to choose these over other healthier (and dare I say it, plainer foods) I read a quote from my favourite Nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed recently who said when discussing junk foods: -
“They are designed that way – to make us enjoy them and want more – from the crunch when you put them in your mouth, to the feeling when it’s on your tongue, and even the taste they leave after they are all gone. So if we start offering these foods to children, who don’t know any better about their health, of course they will start rejecting other, healthier foods”
As Charlotte correctly says, our little ones don’t know any better about health at such as young age, but thankfully, as adults, we do. So, we have to be responsible for ensuring that our beautiful children have the best start at a healthy relationship with food and by default, a healthy body, mind and soul. So, next time your little one is testing the boundaries, remember that it won’t last forever, that it is completely normal and that they won’t starve!
Now, come back to me when they are teenagers and we’ll re-address this fussy eating lark!!