Coping with a fussy eating baby or toddler

Coping with a fussy eating baby or toddler

Your baby's first foray into solid food is a period of discovery. You watch proudly as your young one delights in different textures and tastes for the first time and you end up imagining all the wonderful food you will introduce over the next several days and weeks. But after this initial excitement, some of you might stumble into one of the harsh realities of weaning: finding out that your baby is a fussy eater and that many of the food you thought would be a hit end up in the rejection bin.

If you find yourself struggling to get them to eat a variety of foods, you're not alone. It's common to feel concerned  about whether your fussy eater  is receiving adequate nourishment. 

Rather than fixating on your child's daily intake or their reluctance to try new foods or even finish meals, it's helpful to consider their overall dietary intake across the span of a week.

If your child remains active, continues to gain weight, and appears to be in good health, rest assured that they are likely consuming sufficient nutrients.

With patience, persistence, and a few helpful tips, you can encourage healthier eating habits for your little one and make mealtimes more enjoyable for both you and your baby.

1.  Set a positive mealtime environment 
Create a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere during mealtimes.  NEVER pressure or force your baby to eat, as this can lead to mealtime battles and negative associations with food. Instead, offer meals in a calm environment, free from distractions like ipads, TV or toys.

2.  Offer a variety of foods
Introduce a wide range of foods to your baby's diet, including fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. Offer foods in different textures, colors, and flavors to encourage exploration and experimentation. Keep in mind that it may take several attempts (i.e. 10 or even 15 times) before your baby accepts a new food, so be patient and persistent to revisit a rejected food over time as long as there are no allergy concerns.

3.  Eat always with your baby
Lead by example by demonstrating healthy eating habits yourself. Eat meals with your baby whenever possible and show enthusiasm for trying new foods. Children are more likely to mimic their parents' behaviours, so make sure to model positive attitudes towards food and mealtimes.

4.  Let your baby or toddler touch their food or feed themselves
Give your baby opportunities to feed themselves with a baby spoon or give them finger foods. This allows them to explore foods independently and develop their fine motor skills. Offer a variety of nutritious finger foods like soft fruits or cooked vegetables.

5.  Get creative with presentation.
Make meals visually appealing by arranging food in fun and interesting ways. Use colourful plates, utensils, and food shapes to encourage your baby's interest in food. You can also involve your child in meal preparation by letting them help with simple tasks like stirring or pouring.

6.  Be consistent with their mealtimes
Establish a consistent mealtime routine with regular mealtimes and snacks throughout the day. Avoid giving your baby too many snacks or drinks between meals, as this can decrease their appetite for nutritious foods during mealtimes. This routine must work around your baby’s daytime sleep pattern. 

7.  Maintain a reasonable duration for meals
Some babies want to eat fast, others slow. Be patient with your baby. And while it may be tempting to give your slow eater all the time they need to finish their meal, it's important to set a limit. Aim to keep it within a duration of around 30 minutes.

8.  Offer small portions 
Babies are unable to consume large quantities of food in one sitting. So give small portions. Babies may become overwhelmed by large servings, leading to a loss of appetite. If your toddler finishes their small serving, praise them for eating  and offer more.

9.  Do not use sweets as a reward
Avoid using sweets as a reward.  Do not bribe your toddler to eat savoury foods with the promise of sweets, as this can diminish their interest in healthier options. They may wrongly develop a positive association with sweets and negative with savoury meals.

10.  Seek Professional Advice if Needed
If you're concerned about your baby's eating habits or growth, seek advice from your GP, paediatrician, health visitor or a registered dietitian. They will be able to offer a personalised guidance based on your baby’s specific situation. 

Dealing with a fussy eater can be challenging, but with patience, persistence, and a positive approach, you can definitely help your baby develop healthy eating habits. 

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