We all know too well that mealtimes with a fussy baby or toddler can be somewhat painful. Your lovingly created meals are rejected, the child who yesterday loved rice pudding now declares war on the very same, the food is the wrong colour… you get the picture.
No one can tell you it is easy. After all, these are humans we are talking about, and they have preferences and dislikes just like the rest of us. And, as I am sure you are very aware, a large part of why it can become such a harrowing and stressful experience is the lack of communicative ability. A child of 5 can tell you they dislike the taste of peas, or like one sauce over another better; your littlest ones cannot so much. So how do we combat the language barrier between Mumma and baby and make meal times a more positive, even fun experience? The answer is strategy and behaviour.
The good news is mealtimes don’t have to be painful. There are subtle little tricks and strategies that anyone can put in place to positively improve the experience for everyone involved. Below I have listed my top 5 tips for anyone experiencing difficult mealtimes with a fussy baby or toddler. By altering our behaviour and response to challenging times, executing patience (yes, that’s hard to do at times!) and implementing little tricks to slowly introduce your baby to new foods and textures, we can alter the mood of mealtimes, and even make it something to look forward to!
Remember that when you feel stressed, it is likely that your baby does too.
Try not to exhibit stress or feelings of upset when your little one doesn’t respond to meal times. Negative attention can result in future mealtimes becoming difficult. My advice: Calmly pack up, take a 15-20 minute breather and then try again. This gives you a moment to collect, and gives baby a break too.
Keep on keeping on!
At a young age, a babies tastebuds have not fully developed, and it can take up to 10 tries for them to enjoy a particular flavour or taste. Don’t give up after one or two offerings – it is important to encourage healthy and balanced eating habits at a young age, so try at least 10 times before you cancel the item they initially refuse from the routine!
Set up a balanced routine – and stick to it.
Sometimes it can be hard to refuse a snack or treat, because we want to make our babies happy and it’s no secret a yummy snack can put a fast smile on their faces! The trick is to offer healthy and light snacks between meals, allowing them to enjoy a treat during the day but not destroy their appetite. Keep mealtimes at the same time as much as you can, which will in turn help you to keep snacks under control and, over time, your little one’s tummy will adjust – so they will be hungry when you are trying to feed them.
Eat together and make meal times fun.
Our children learn by watching us – so sit with them at the table and enjoy a meal together. By making it a fun experience by adding a smiley face to a pizza, let them make mess by practicing feeding themselves if that is their preference, and offer new flavours and textures. Your children are likely to come to look forward to meal times because it means fun with Mama at the table.
This may seem hard, but remember that you are not the first parent to have troubles, you won’t be the last and your baby will not let themselves go hungry! As troubling as meal times can be some days, by offering good, healthy food and showing your children that mealtimes can be fun, positive experiences where they get to spend some quality time with you – you are doing the best thing a parent can do. What our Children learn at a young age about eating habits sticks around for a long time. So breathe, know you are a wonderful parent and don’t give up!
It takes time for both parent and baby to develop a routine, discover preferences in taste and texture and find a comfortable way to introduce / accept new food. The above tips are just a few of the ways I managed my own fussy little eater. For a new mum, it can be upsetting and scary when starting solids and learning about your child’s eating behaviours. For a veteran mum, it can be challenging because two children can be so different; just when you thought you had it all worked out, along comes baby number 2 throwing a spanner in the works!
The biggest thing I learned when introducing solids and new foods to my two boys is trust. Trust that my boys will eat what they need to, and not what I need them to.
About the author: Sevi Stolica is the Founder of Baby Bistro. Since 2012, Baby Bistro has been delivering home-style, 100% organic baby food to families around Melbourne. Made using only premium ingredients, with no added flavourings, colourings or preservatives, Baby Bistro offers a healthy alternative to processed baby food.