Having food fights with your fussy eater? Toddler only eating 50 shades of beige? We know your pain – we’ve been there too.
Which is why we were so excited when Dr Jennifer Cohen – better known as the Fussy Eating Doctor – shared her wisdom at our recent Tackling The Toddler Years workshop event.
Importantly, she reassured us fussy eating is very common, with up to 50 percent of little people having a picky palette at some point. It normally starts around 12 months of age and can peak at about two to three years.
What qualifies as a fussy eater? Good question! Jennifer points out there’s no standard definition, but says she applies the term when a child is eating less than 20 foods or has removed complete food groups altogether (usually, vegetables are the first to go).
If that’s happening, here’s her go-to tips to get more food into your child’s mouth and less on the floor.
1. Practice the ‘division of responsibility’
This is an approach from US dietitian Ellen Satter that outlines parents and children’s distinct roles at meal-times.
“So your job as a parent is to provide the food that you want your child to eat and it’s your child’s job to decide whether they’re going to eat it or not,” explains Jennifer. “Your job is not to make your child eat the food, it’s to serve the food that you want them to eat.”
This way, the parent is in charge of the what, where and when of making meals, while your child is responsible for how much they eat.
Watch Jennifer’s talk at our toddler workshop
2. Don’t wait till dinner to serve vegetables
Instead, Jennifer recommends spreading the serves through the day and even sneaking some into breakfast if possible. That way, it takes the pressure off dinner, when your child can be more frayed and fussy after a long day.
3. Make considered meals, not catered meals
Where fussy eating gets really frustrating for parents is when it means cooking individual meals for different family members.
Jennifer advises against making these ‘catered’ meals and instead recommends serving picky tots the family’s main meal PLUS some foods you know they’ll eat. That way, they have new foods to try but also some safe ones they like to fall back on.
“Try a combination of both – serve both liked food and non-liked foods to your fussy eater but just serve one meal to the rest for the whole family,” she explains.
4. Eat together as a family
Toddler see, toddler do! If you want to inspire your little one to have a big appetite and try new foods, lead by example and show them how, says Jennifer.
“Modelling good eating habits is actually one of the most important things for helping your fussy eater to like foods.”
5. Serve family-style meals
Rather than serving up individual plates, put the food in the middle and let everyone help themselves to a portion. Obviously they need to be dexterous enough and it can be a bit messier, but it’s worth it to get your toddler more invested.
“It’s a great way of getting your fussy eater interested in new foods,” says Jennifer. “And it teaches them about regulating their own appetite.”
This post is brought to you by b.box for kids, an event partner for the Tackling The Toddler Years workshop.