Tackling a Picky Eater: A Survival Guide for Toddler Mealtime Madness
Do you find yourself engaged in a daily wrestling match with your fussy eating toddler? Don't worry, you're not alone in this struggle. I know the frustration very well as I have been battling with a fussy eater who turned his nose up at anything I served and barely ate anything for a whole month. But fear not, because I managed to change his eating habits and have finally gotten some of my sanity back. Here are some tips and tricks that have worked for us.
1) Let them Explore
Let's face it, toddlers have their own unique taste buds, and sometimes their food preferences can be quite strange. So, the first thing I did was to let my 18 month old explore. If your little one insists on dipping banana in ketchup or have their rice with a dollop of nutella (requests I uncomfortably agreed to), just go with it. As long as they're getting some nutrition, let them explore their culinary creativity.
2) Show them lots of different foods
Expose them to a variety of food and try not to sneak them into their meals. Yes, this is a great way to get them to eat it without even realising they did, but it is short-term. We should aim to help them have a good relationship with food and this does take time and effort.
Just seeing the food on the table counts as a food exposure, as having them help us wash the veggies before dinner, or even seeing us eat the food and talk about them ( I wonder why bunnies love carrots? Amma’s going to try and see if they really are as crunchy and good as they look!)
3) Let kids play with food
When my one year old saw me approaching with a spoon, he would shun away and never accept anything I tried to feed him directly into his mouth. I soon realised that this was not because he hated what I offered but he just wanted to hold and touch his food. Offering a variety of bite-sized and easy-to-hold food is a good option to get them eating instead of full plates of meals. Think colourful fruit slices, cheese cubes, mini rice balls and idlis, or vegetable sticks with a tasty chutney. Let them explore and play while munching away. Yes, the mess always gets to me, but sometimes just playing around with a broccoli may make them comfortable enough to put it in their mouth the next time!
4) Patience, patience, patience!
From my experience with my two boys, I have learned that when it comes to dealing with a picky eater, patience and perseverance are key . If your toddler refuses a particular food, offer it again a week later as children often need repeated exposure to certain foods before they accept them. Just because they didn't like it one time, doesn't mean they won't like it the next, especially if it's prepared differently.
5) Lead by Example
Monkey see, monkey do! Your little one looks up to you, so be a role model when it comes to eating habits. Show them your enthusiasm for nutritious foods by enjoying them yourself. Let them see you munching on veggies and savoring healthy meals. They're more likely to follow suit when they see that eating healthy is just a normal part of everyday life.
6) Don’t judge another parent’s feeding style
We would not know what another parent has or hasn’t tried in their feeding journey. A mother might have offered 2 different meals to her toddler for dinner before giving up and letting him have some nuggets. There’s so much more that goes into a parent’s decision for his or her child’s food choices. What works for one family may not work for another. It is important that we be gracious, kind and supportive of one another in this challenging journey of parenting!
7) Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Lastly, please don’t be afraid to ask for help if you see no progress in your child’s eating habits. Children with sensory needs or conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder may need professional support in helping them overcome their food aversion. It is always important to take into account every child’s individual needs to make their eating experience an enjoyable one.
Written by: S Sandana
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