Friday, 8 February 2019

Life with a Fussy Eating Toddler

Before I was a parent, I had assumptions of how I'd be as a mother and how my kids would be. I was naive, we've all been there right? I'd see a child playing on an iPad at a restaurant and think 'I'll never do that'.... we do that most all of the time. I'd see parents losing their shit in Tesco and think 'just calm down'.... christ, if it was only that easy! And I'd hear people say that their child is a fussy eater and think 'that's probably your own fault'.... I know, I want to go back and give pre-kids me a slap too. She was clueless and you really never do know how much of a challenge being a parent is until you're actually doing it. So did I ever think that I (someone who lives for food πŸ™Œ) would end up having a child who's a fussy eater? Did I hell.

So why is he a fussy eater? I honestly have no idea. Myself and Aled both love to cook, we eat a wide variety of different meals and even plan days out around where we can go to eat. So he's never seen us being fussy. Some people say it can be genetic, but neither of us were fussy as children either. I've thought about everything over the years, was it something I did wrong during weaning him? I thought it might be this for so long, until Elsie came along and I did everything exactly the same and she LOVES food. I can only put it down to him just generally not having much interest in food. Elsie likes to try whatever you're eating whereas Ollie would be happy eating a plain cracker or breadstick. They are so different.

When I posted about his fussiness on Instagram when he was about 18 months old, lots of people said it would get better at around 4 or 5 years old and I can remember thinking 'that's a lifetime away! 😩' and although it has been such a long journey, we are definitely making progress now. So I thought I'd share how these last few years have been for us all in the hope it helps any others that feel like it's a never ending life of beige freezer food.

And before any negative comments come my way, I am in no way shape or form an expert on children's nutrition or fussy eating, this is just an honest account of how having a fussy eating toddler has been and some tips that have helped us recently.

I was so excited to start weaning Oliver. I had everything ready for weeks... all the books, pots, spoons, food processor, bibs, the lot! I won't go into detail of how I weaned him as it was the same as Elsie (which you can read about here) but everything was by the book and it went really well until about 9 months old. It started with him not wanting to be spoon all of a sudden, which was fine, so we moved onto more finger foods and baby led weaning meals instead. But he never really wanted to try any of them. As he got older and more aware, the worse he got. 

You may look at the photos above and think there's never been a problem, but I've always grabbed a pic of the good times. The times he's actually eaten something new or actually eaten a full bowl of homemade lasagne, only to not want to even try it again for months. No one wants pictures of the bad times. One of those pictures in particular is him at Nando's with a kids burger meal. I can still remember it now, he only ate the garlic bread πŸ˜ΆπŸ‘ We've been through phases of plain pasta only, him not liking the end bits of sausages, only having dry cereal, tears over the wrong coloured spoons and meltdowns at the sight of anything new on his plate. 

We've tried so many things over the last few years to get him to eat his tea...
  • The threat of no pudding (rarely worked)
  • Saying he'll have to go straight to bed if he doesn't eat it (never worked as he'd do anything to get away from the table)
  • Sitting with him and eating the same thing (worked sometimes but unfortunately we don't have the chance to do this that often due to work)
  • Saying that he'll have to sit at the table all night on his own in the dark (harsh I know, but when you're desperate you'll try anything) unless he eats some (worked 90% of the time, but only did this when he was 4 onwards)

It's been exhausting, and emotional. One of the worst parts of having a fussy eating child is how awkward it makes going out to a restaurant, family members house or even just kids parties. As you know the odds of them serving waffles and dinosaurs is pretty slim. (Which, FYI, has always been his favourite meal, even now but obviously it's a total treat tea these days as we know he can - and will -  eat far healthier foods). So for a good 4 years we could never really eat out as he never liked the typical 'kids meals' of chips, pizza, spaghetti bolognese or chicken nuggets so we'd end up ordering a side of garlic bread and hope for the best. We'd have to scope out the kids menu before going anywhere to see if there was any point going. It's so much easier now though as he eats all of those meals (at home) but I still get nervous ordering them in case he dismisses it and then it ends up being a waste of money and he's then bored watching us have our food.

So what's made him start eating more foods? I honestly think Cylch (playgroup) and being in school has been the biggest help by far. Which would explain why people always said by age 4 or 5, he'd improve. Just seeing other children eating foods had an impact on his eating habits within a couple of weeks. Lunches were always a struggle as he never liked sandwiches until about 3.5 when he started eating jam ones (I know, not healthy, but a lunch option nonetheless). He started taking packed lunches to Cylch in September 2017, when he was almost 4, and since then we've moved on to dairylea sandwiches, then to dairylea and ham, to just ham and now ham and cucumber! All at his request. All because he's seen his friends eating the same thing and wanted some of the action. All of these baby steps have led to him trying other foods and now we can finally offer some variety in his diet which rarely includes freezer favourites.

We still have nights now where he's not willing to eat some foods he already likes which is so frustrating and meals end up taking almost an hour for him to eat. And there are still some foods he just doesn't like or try (chocolate - although he likes chocolate biscuits and krispy cakes, beans, cheese, cottage pie, mac n cheese, carbonara, chilli con carne, fish pie... the list goes on) but on the whole, it's a million times better than it has been. Here's some of the things that have helped...
  • Letting him pick a new plate/bowl to buy from the shop and then encouraging him to eat enough so he can see the character at the bottom
  • Cutting sandwiches into fun shapes with cookie cutters (we have a whole box full now ranging from crocodiles to guitars, hearts to pumpkins)
  • Give a number of mouthfuls to go, Ollie will still do this now on his own if it's a tea he doesn't overly love
  • Ollie loves garlic bread so with pasta based meals, I'd say he can only have his piece once he'd eaten the pasta (works the same for naan/poppadoms with curry or prawn crackers with Chinese food too)
  • Try not to get annoyed. Easier said than done, BELIEVE ME. But as soon as Ollie can see that I'm getting frustrated, he'll dig his heels in even further
  • Now that he's older, explaining about healthy/non healthy foods has helped massively. He understands that we have to eat certain foods to help us grow big and strong like Hulk, naturally
  • Lots of encouragement and definitely lots of praise and high fives when he's tried something

One thing that's never helped Ollie is having our friends or family come round when he's having his tea. he loses focus straight away which leads to him getting the classes 'are you not eating your food?' or 'is that all you're having?' comments which totally discourage him. I know they don't mean to be unhelpful but the less attention to his eating habits, the better, we've found.

I hope I haven't rambled on too much! The main thing I wanted to get across is, if you are struggling with a fussy eater, please don't feel like you're to blame or think it'll never end. It's crap, but you're not alone. I've lost count of how many different homemade meals I've made in the past that have just been looked at like they're poison and ended up in the bin. But every child is different and some just aren't interested in food but they all get there in the end.

*oh and you can add stir-fry to the list of food he likes now too πŸ‘ thanks to a recipe by My Fussy Eater


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