While your baby wants to enjoy their independence by being the king of their little world and exploring different foods, it is a normal part of the process to become fussy. The baby could eat too little one day or dislike something that is liked too much the other day or avoid new foods the first time they are offered. An important point to remember here is that how active your baby is and how much they are growing determines their appetite. As a result, the appetite can go up and down.
Fussy eating becomes a common issue worldwide. A survey in Singapore found nearly half of the parents perceive their child as a fussy eater and a third of them visited a doctor about this behavior. According to a 2016 study, fussy eaters made up over 25% of the children aged 1.5 to 5 years.
Although it is all part of the learning and developing process, still you can implement some simple yet wonderful tips mentioned here to reduce the risk of raising a fussy eater. Let’s get started and be confident that you are rightly helping your little one grow into a healthy and happy foodie.
Mealtimes are the happy times:
Make mealtime stress-free and pleasant. Keep in mind that the readiness to try food depends greatly on the surrounding environment. Encourage fearless food exploration. Don’t worry about the mess created but let the baby fully enjoy the food. Excessive cleaning during eating or not allowing the baby to touch the food are not good ideas at all. In a study at the University of Eastern Finland, those children who engaged in classroom activities like hands-on time with fruits and veggies by either cooking, baking, or growing them are more likely to pick them at the mealtime. So touching and becoming friends with food is important.
Mealtimes are the family times:
Wash your little one’s hands, put them in the high chair, and bring them near the family table. This process will make them understand that it is mealtime. As a role model for your little one, practice healthy food habits and establish a positive eating environment. Your child will learn to do the same. Let them observe that you are ready to try new foods and it will serve as a good start for them, too. Seeing other family members and friends having a particular food will also motivate them to try it.
Mealtimes are the fun times:
Your little one may find other activities more exciting than spending the time eating. You have to make eating a fun activity.
Introduce finger foods and other interesting shapes according to their oral motor skills. Sometimes making a complete garden such as flowers, leaves, bees, etc with the food helps. Different veggies like carrots and baby spinach along with cheese can help you in this task. Sometimes you may have to take your baby to the zoo by making a monkey and a banana with the food. Bread and omelet pieces also turn into a great lion. It all depends on your creativity and what your baby likes more. Daily bringing up a new interesting scenario with some new foods included per week along with the previous ones that the baby likes is a great idea. Different food games can also work in this regard.
Secondly, engage your little ones in the food preparation by letting them do some small steps that are easy for them. They will be proud and happier to try the food they contributed to making.
Mealtimes are the mindful times:
Yes, no distractions, please. It is now time for food and full attention to food. Generally, it has become a trend that little ones engage in watching cartoons or poems while eating. Being absorbed in these side activities they may become desensitized to their fullness feeling and eat more, but it is not a good habit in the long run. It may turn the baby fussier when no such entertainment is there. From the very start, inculcate the healthy habit of mindful eating and make food and family the real focus and entertainment at the mealtime. This helps the little one become aware of their body needs.
Mealtimes are the regular fixed times:
A regular mealtime with a fixed time limit, let’s say 20 minutes, is best to keep the fun happening. Too much time for the meal may not keep it fun anymore. If the baby is not done with the food during this period and also doesn’t seem interested in having more, take the food away and don’t give it till the next meal or snack time. Being hungry helps a lot to eat well and try new foods.
Small at the start helps:
At the start, instead of forcing the baby to eat the whole meal, you can just make the baby lick the new ingredient. It may lead them to try a mouthful. Additionally, don’t overwhelm the little one with large portions but serve small child-appropriate portions according to the age.
Forcing never helps:
Forcing your baby to try new foods or eat more can result in making them fussier. Never do this. Make it a comfortable and enjoyable process for both you and the baby. Be patient and wait for the numerous opportunities ahead to try new foods.
Introducing new food several times helps:
Your little one may be afraid to try new food the first time you offer it. Introduce it several times with some familiar foods. Seeing it many times will make them courageous enough to try it. According to a study, a new veggie is accepted by your little one when it has been offered several times. Dipping sauce and light seasonings also work well for introducing new foods.
Giving the baby independence helps:
Offer a variety of colorful healthy nutritious foods from all food groups and then let the little ones explore and decide what they want to eat, how to eat it, and how much. Sometimes, limiting the food options to 2 to 3 helps prevent the baby from getting overwhelmed or confused in choosing. You can also make them choose from a series of options. For example, to eat or not to eat, what to eat from the 2 foods available and how much to eat.
Focusing on fussy behavior too much never helps:
Never give attention to the fussy behavior, rather ignore it, as the attention can sometimes make the little one continue becoming fussier. Refusing the food does not always mean they dislike it, but they just want to assert their independence or see your upset reaction. Similarly, any punishment for fussy behavior will also make the little one associate a negative feeling with the food. Keep calm, wait a few minutes and then take the food away to offer it some other time.
If you have a healthy energetic little one, it means their food needs are getting fulfilled properly. But if your little one is eating very little most of the time or not eating a particular food group for a long time and is also not feeling healthy, consult your child’s pediatrician or dietician and get guidance accordingly.
Implementing these simple tips from the very beginning is great for reducing the risk of raising a fussy eater. Creating a positive, comfortable and healthy eating environment makes the journey exciting and enjoyable with little fuss and frustration. A healthy relationship with food requires keeping a balance between your little ones independence – giving preference to their choices, and making sure that a wide variety of food options are introduced to them. Don’t worry if your efforts fail at first, it is a long process and with time things will start to make sense.