Why we don’t try to ‘fix’ fussy eating
If you’re thinking about making an appointment with a feeding specialist, then you would be hoping that they can ‘fix’ your child’s eating issues. We completely understand that.
Most of the parents we see have a clear idea of a particular food or type of food that they REALLY want their child to eat. It might be a vegetable or just anything that isn’t beige! Or it might be that meat is the real struggle and they’d love their child to share a roast dinner with them. Whatever the food is, most people have something in their mind that would signify ‘success’.
WHY IS SUCCESS HARD?
But (and there’s always a but!) if your child has struggled with new foods for a long time, there as almost always been stress and worry and frustration associated with food and mealtimes for an equally long time.
When food has been scary or intimidating or even painful, children learn all the tricks in the book to avoid having to eat it. Much of their energy goes into refusing foods like vegetables and meat. These behaviours usually become more ingrained the older the child gets.
When we change our approach to food and mealtimes, we help to reduce the fear and worry for our children. When we take the pressure off food, we open up the possibility of them being able to learn about it. But this takes time.
There is no magic ‘fix’ that will make a child who has refused vegetables for the past year, suddenly eat and enjoy broccoli – believe me if there was, we would be bottling it!
WILL MY CHILD EAT BROCCOLI?
What we can do is work with you to make adjustments to the mealtime environment and give your child the space to build confidence and trust around food. This takes time and the amount of time will differ between children. We find that if you measure your child’s success using a specific food (like broccoli) then it’s really normal to get frustrated and lose motivation. At first, many parents feel like they aren’t making progress.
WHAT IS PROGRESS?
Progress isn’t always about eating a particular food. Sure, that’s our long term goal, but it’s not going to be the first change you see or the first thing that your child is actually capable of. Think of learning to like foods as a marathon – you don’t just wake up one morning and decide to run a marathon, then feel surprised when you can’t make the 42km distance in your first attempt. Instead, it’s helpful to set smaller, more manageable targets that work towards your ultimate goal. You might start with something similar to what you’re doing (like walking 2km), but add on a little challenge to see if you can run 500m of that 2km. It’s small steps that get you to your end goal.
So, rather than just focusing on that food you REALLY want your child to eat, we have come up with a list ‘little wins’ - signs that mean you are on the right track.
You feel more relaxed at mealtimes
Your child is getting involved with meal preparation
Your child comes happily to the table
Your child asks you questions about the food you’re eating
Your child can happily touch new foods without feeling pressured to eat them
You and your family are able to enjoy components of a meal together
Your child is serving themselves and others at mealtimes
Your child can tolerate new foods on their plate or the table
You’re less reliant on screens at mealtimes
You share conversations about your day at the table without focussing on the food
Your child is able to pack away their plate and utensils after a meal
Your child is able to taste new foods that are similar but also a tiny bit different to their safe foods (e.g. a new brand of cracker)
TAKE HOME MESSAGE Over time, as you experience any of these little wins, your child may continue to refuse broccoli….or they may choose to eat it. Either way, their fussy eating hasn’t been ‘fixed’. Instead what you have done, is given them space and support to explore different foods in their own time, without pressure or expectation. You are trusting them to know if they’re ready to try something new and how much food they need. And most importantly, you are sharing this food discovery journey with them. Now that is success!
About Toddler Mealtimes
Toddler Mealtimes is an online subscription for parents who want to feel confident about teaching their toddler to enjoy a variety of foods. It's particularly helpful for those who are noticing their toddler becoming increasingly fussy, but they're not quite sure to handle it. The 12 month subscription guides you through managing toddler fussiness with confidence with regular tips and tricks via videos and photos. Sign up here www.toddlermealtimes.com.au
About Baby Mealtimes
Baby Mealtimes is an online subscription for parents with babies aged 4-12 months. It’s your one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about introducing solid food to your baby. The monthly subscription (or 8 month package) guides you through what to offer and when, with meal ideas and a photo gallery of over 120 finger foods organised by age.
Sign up here www.babymealtimes.com.au
About Mealtime Building Blocks
Dr Kyla Smith and Liz Beaton are paediatric dietitians specialising in fussy eating, feeding difficulties and childhood nutrition. Lauren Pike is an occupational therapist working in fussy eating and feeding difficulties. They have a private practice called Mealtime Building Blocks in Perth, Western Australia. You can connect with Kyla, Liz and Lauren here www.mealtimes.com.au