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Feeding a fussy eater – Clare’s top tips!

Clare from Clare’s Little Tots is used to feeding fussy eaters, both with her own children and the children she has looked after as a childminder. She has very kindly agreed to share her top tips for feeding a fussy eater with us in this fantastic guest post!

Hi, I’m really excited to be guest posting for Friendly First Foods today and share with you my top tips for feeding a fussy eater.
I’m Clare, a mum to Georgia aged 4 and Jack aged 1 and since 2012 I’ve been an Ofsted registered childminder. Pretty much all the children I’ve cared for, including my own, have at some point gone through a fussy eating stage. It can be an extremely stressful time and worrying when your child doesn’t eat the beautiful home-cooked meals you’ve prepared but today I’m sharing my top tips on Feeding a Fussy Eater.

Relax

This is easier said than done I know but children pick up on stress. I wasn’t very relaxed when Georgia started her fussy eating stage around 18 months and we had many, many stressful meal times.
Recently Jack went through a 3 week period of only eating toast, cereal, crisps, raspberries and yoghurt. What did I do? Carry on was usual, putting a variety of healthy food in front of him and pretty much ignoring him if he didn’t eat it. He has a very good understanding of the pattern of his day so knew when food would next be offered and by not stressing out about it he soon came round and is now back to eating all his favourites again (apart from vegetables).
Fussy eating is a normal stage for many children and it’s important to remember it’s just that. A stage. It won’t last forever so just go with the flow and try not to worry. Remember “…this too shall pass”.

Control

Being in control, or a lack of it,  is probably the biggest reasons I see for fussy eating. We decide so much for our children, where they go, what they’ll wear, who they will see, when they will eat and what. One of the things we can’t do is actually make them eat it. A toddler knows this and food refusal is a great way for them to show they are in control when they reach that lovely age of wanting to assert their independence.
Some simple ways to give them back some control that I use are:
Choice – Let them choose what they eat from a range of food you have already pre-decided. Do they want peas of beans with their tea? Do they want an apple or banana with their lunch? The choice is in their hands and so they have control.
Involve them in meal planning– Ask them what meals they would like that week, you don’t have to agree to all of them but letting them choose a few meals for the week is a simple way to give them back that control they so desire.
Take them shopping– Take your little ones shopping and let them choose a few items to put in the trolley to make a meal out of. Being able to see the ingredients that go into food getting them to pick out their favourites or even encourage them to pic k one new ingredient something they haven’t tried before and you can make something with it together.
Let them choose what their food is served on– Have you ever placed a lovingly cooked meal in front of your child only for them to break down in uncontrollable floods of tears because it’s on the green plate and not the blue plate? The colour of plate or cup we use might not seem important to us but making sure your tea is served on your favourite colour plate can mean the difference between eating it and not eating it when you’re 2 years old.

Let them play with food

Ok, I know many of you won’t agree with me on this one, but trust me, letting children get accustomed to the way food feels is a great way to ensure they aren’t freaked out by it. Food feels different to anything else they touch. Food can feel hot, cold, slimey, soft, wet, squishy, crunchy and the sensory aspect of food is another one of the main reasons I see for fussy eating.
This is why I love Baby Led Weaning as they become accustomed to the texture of food from the start. I cared for one child who was spoon-fed from 4 months old and even when a small bit touched their hand or face it was immediately wiped off. They had never felt the texture of food and so when finger food was offered they refused to touch it as they didn’t like the way it felt.
Let them stick their hands in their bowl, squish it between their fingers and eventually they will bring it to their mouth. It’s pretty gross to watch sometimes especially when it starts to get in their hair, ears and all over your floor but it’s great for sensory development.

Get cooking with your little ones

One of my favourite ways to involve the children with cooking is make your own pizzas or pasta bowls. Grab your pizza base (we love using wraps or pitta breads), get the kids to squeeze on and spread the tomato puree and then let them choose from a range of toppings already set out in little bowls. You’ll be amazed and what they put on them and then go on to eat if they’ve chosen and made it themselves.
When I tried this with a veggie dodging 2 year old I was shocked when all he wanted on his pizza was mushrooms and sweetcorn. Not only did he eat the whole thing he also said “mmmmm nice Clare”. I had never managed to get him to eat a vegetable until this point.
I’ve got lots of great ideas for cooking with kids and some of my toddlers are now pros at mixing and rolling.

Snacking

This is a big one for me. I see so many children refusing meals because either they have a) just filled up on snacks or b) know they will get a snack soon after their meal anyway so they don’t need to eat it if they don’t feel like it.
Babies and toddlers need to eat little and often so a small snack between main meals is fine, but I find once they start reach 3 – 4 years old that snacking between meals often means they aren’t hungry when it comes to meal times.
This does vary though depending on what activities we’ve been doing. If we’ve had a whole morning at a park or soft play then yes some fruit to keep them going certainly won’t put them off their next meal but constant snacking often results in meal refusal.

Drinks

Another biggie for me. Fill your child up with juice / squash and they probably won’t be hungry at their next meal. I offer water and milk to my own children and children I care for and this is also what they’ll be offered in a nursery setting or at school.

Variety and Portions

I aim to always ensure there are several different foods on offer at each meal time that way there’s (hopefully) at least one thing that my little ones will like. Filling up a plate with a huge portion of pie if they don’t like pie can be really overwhelming. By placing a tiny amount of pie on the plate served up with small portions of vegetables and potatoes etc they are probably more likely to try it.
The amount of food babies, toddlers and preschoolers need is often less than people think. We are born with the ability to self regulate and stop when we are full. By not forcing children to finish every thing on their plate and look for signs of them being full we not only teach them not to overeat but we can be reminded of how little food they really need…..and before you know it they’ll be at school and you won’t be able to fill them up!
If you’re looking for more recipes for fussy eaters, baby led weaning or fun things to cook with kids you can follow me on:
or pop along and check out my blog where along with recipes I share fun crafts and activities for babies though to school age children.

Do you have any tips for feeding a fussy eater?

Please feel free to share your suggestions or experiences in the comments!  We’d love to hear them!

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