I might have been a fussy eater when I was a child, but now I love food. I can’t deny that. And that’s why, when I hit 28 and my metabolism went to post, I’ve found it easy to put on weight. That, and moving in with the OH who does a physical job and can eat anything without too much worry, and reduced exercise.
As a child, I wouldn’t eat onions (I used to pick them out of spaghetti bolognaise), peppers, fish (I’ll eat tuna, swordfish, sea bass and salmon now), mushrooms (still a no) and I really wasn’t keen on lamb. I’ll eat it now, but still not fussed. But as a 2 year old I refused to eat lamb casserole and my mum got so annoyed, she tipped it over my head. Obviously it meant a lot of clearing up but I expect she’d have loved to have done the same on other occasions.
The OH says I’m still fussy, but actually I eat a lot more variety of dishes and international foods than he will. So when we had N I wanted to try and give him as many different foods as possible and try to avoid having a fussy eater.
Thankfully weaning was a doddle. I’d decided on baby led weaning, mostly because pureeing is a lot of effort and I couldn’t be bothered. But also, why wouldn’t you? Just give them the same food (less salt/sugar) than you serve up, cut suitably, and they can eat and choose what they want. It’s a no-brainer to me.
N loved food (and still does). Weaning was great fun. And although we’re not that exciting with our food at home (the OH won’t eat chinese, curries, risotto, stir fries, or lots of other more exciting meals), being at nursery meant N was able to try lots of different foods and flavours outside of what I served up at home.
Comparing what N would and could eat to his peers, he could see what he was eating, what different foods looked like, rather than just mush. I think that’s a much better way of babies learning and exploring food, textures, shapes and flavours, and being able to relate them more readily to the actual ingredients as they get older. He was also using a spoon (preloaded with weetabix, porridge or yoghurt) from the start which meant he was already using a fork by 13 months and attempting a knife not long after as well.
Lots of children go through fussy stages, and we have had a few of those. While weaning he would eat all kinds of things including olives and other things I wouldn’t touch. But since then he won’t have olives. The only other food he will not touch is raw tomato. Whenever he tried it during weaning he used to end up with a bit of a red reaction near his mouth, so I don’t know if that’s put him off even now he’s older. He’s got no other allergies and he’s fine with cooked tomatoes, so I’m sure he’d have grown out of it now. He wouldn’t even try the tomatoes we grew ourselves.
The only food he avoided was leafy veg. He likes broccoli but was a bit iffy with cabbage and wouldn’t touch lettuce. I’m not surprised with lettuce because there’s not a lot of flavour, and it’s a bit ‘stick to the roof of your mouth’. But since nursery grew their own and he had a taste back in the autumn, he now seems to have changed his mind.
Whenever we have whole lettuces (we usually have little gem or romaine lettuce) he’ll have a leaf. The first time he helped himself I was a bit surprised.
‘Are you going to garnish with that or eat it?’
‘Eat it. I like leaves now’. Ok, worked for me. And he ended up eating a couple of leaves, and has done every time since. Bagged salad he’s not so keen to try but full leaves work a treat.
Pizza was the other food he’s been funny with. It could be home made or home-topped shop bought, he’ll still not eat it. But he eats it at nursery (or will try a bit from someone else’s plate in a restaurant). I’ve worked out that the reason he’ll have that is that they put the slices on one plate and they can take a slice at a time. That’s obviously the way to go.
Tips to avoid having a fussy eater
1, Do baby led weaning
They learn from an early age that they can control what they eat, how much and what. They also get to eat the same as the rest of the family, and feel like they’re joining in. And they’ll likely get to try and broader range of foods.
2, Give them food when they ask for it (within reason)
Babies and children have different requirements for food, and will generally eat when they’re hungry. For N that means he’ll only eat a small amount for breakfast, but then will be hungry and want food all morning, have lunch, then can go all afternoon until tea (although he will moan in the afternoon he’s hungry – but he usually is thirsty or only needs a bite of something). So unless it’s only a short time until a meal, let them have something to eat. If they’re active all the time, they’ll need it.
3,Let them have control and choices
I don’t agree with only cooking meals for them if they won’t eat the same as the rest of the family, but giving them input into the meal choice, the side accompaniments, or letting them take part in the meal – setting the table, carrying plates, serving their own vegetables, will help them be more interested in their food.
4, Give them a wide variety of foods
At home we don’t eat that much fish, or meals from other countries (indian, chinese, thai etc), but N got his variety through school and previously nursery. Let them see you eating a variety, so they see it’s the norm.
5, Make it interesting
Now I can’t be bothered with prettying up food, and making cut out shapes and pictures with food isn’t my type of thing. Apart from making food more fun, I’m not sure it makes children less fussy. Yes for parties, pep things up in fancy shapes. But you can make food more accessible to young children. Chop it up in different ways – think square vs triangle sandwiches, sticks vs round carrots, serve veg up in different ways, have sauces drizzled vs as a dipper.
And while I’m on the subject, hiding vegetables in other foods. Argh. I hate that. Yes I add pepper and courgette to spaghetti and other things, but blitzing it and hiding it. It might get veg into them, but it’s not going to get them used to taste and texture.
6, Always talk about where the food comes from
As a farming family we’ve always been open about what the cows, sheep and occasional pigs are on the farm for, and N and his cousins have always understand about different meats and how crops are grown. More children need to know this, they’ll appreciate it more, and if you can grow vegetables yourself then it’s worth giving it a go.
I’m not a gardener, but we’ve grown tomatoes in the past, (our strawberries flunked 2 years), and this year we’re going to do radishes and lettuce.
7, Keep offering the same food
Babies can take up to 15 tries before they like a food, so there’s no point trying it once and never again. Keep putting it out, but let them choose to try it. It only needs to be a small portion, and alongside other foods they eat well. It took N a lot of trying before he decided he liked cucumber and now he loves it.
I’m relieved I don’t have a fussy eater, but we all know of a child somewhere in our circle who won’t eat anything other than 3 (quite often unhealthy) food stuffs. Personally if N would only eat limited foods and I was struggling to get him to try any others, I’d check what he’ll eat when outside the family. Some children eat perfectly well with peers at nursery or school. If that’s the case, then it should be fairly straight forward to solve, maybe relaxing eating times, getting someone else to serve and cook, trying the above tips. If they won’t eat anything else out of the house either, then get their health checked that they’re growing ok and have the right vitamins. And then see if there’s a nutrition or food specialist you could see to try other techniques in introducing more food variety.
How did you wean your children? Do you or did you have a fussy eater and how do you deal with it?
n.b. I’m not a nutritionist, these are just my views.
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