How to Deal with a Fussy Eater

While I usually stick with sleep related topics, it is nice to add in some topics that I am asked about often. How to deal with a fussy eater is a common question I get, and if kids are going to bed hungry, it will affect their sleep. So, I am not straying too far 🙂 

Today we will discuss how to win the battle of food you and your picky little eater go through each day, and how to turn it into a win-win situation for both of you. 

Is it Normal for My Child to Be a Picky Eater? 

There really are no rules on what a “normal” eater is. Because there are so many choices when it comes to what food we consume, and what food we choose for our children to consume, “normal” can vary quite a bit. 

However, there are a lot of foods that we know are good for our little ones to eat, and often, they don’t agree with us. Throwing their food, pushing it away, or spitting it out, is their sweet way of letting us know that. Often, we end up frustrated, they end up hungry, and the battle continues at lunch time. 

Some parents take the route of “if you don’t eat what I made, you’ll go hungry.” Some parents relent, and make food they know their child will eat or give them a snack to tide them over until the next mealtime and re-attempt to feed them the same choices from the morning, or a new offering that again, we know is healthy and good for them, and again, they simply don’t like it. 

Fussy or Picky? What’s the Difference? 

The food battle in O.K. Kitchen Corral is a tricky one. You want your kid to eat healthy, nutritious food, and you also don’t want them to be hungry. A hangry baby or toddler makes for a challenging day. I am actually surprised no one has created a wine called “Hangry Baby, Wine for Defeated Parents.” 

Snacks are also another area of concern. We give our babies cheerios or pieces of goldfish to encourage chewing, using the little teeth they have, and practicing feeding themselves, however there is little to no nutritional value in either of those choices, and most babies have an affinity toward anything of healthy value. 

For people who don’t have kids, babysitters or well meaning family, they give into the kiddo letting them have what they want, however it is concerning for the parent because you know 

your baby/toddler needs to eat the right kind of foods to grow up big and strong. It’s not like it was in the 80’s where Fred and Wilma gave us Flintstones Vitamins, or Popeye convinced us to “stay strong to the finish, and eat your Spinach!” Is it just me, or were those Flintstones Vitamins actually really good? I think I ate 20 of them one day my mom forgot to screw the lid on tight. I never told her, but I did worry that I would grow 20 feet tall in one night. I kept checking my legs to make sure they weren’t growing. 

Alas, it is not as simple as that and there needs to be a solution that benefits the health of our children, and satisfies their taste buds. 

Read a great article here; cereal in bottles; is it a good idea? 

How to Win The Food Fight 

Here are some steps you can take to make this a win-win for the both of you: 

1. Know Your Role: 

Are you the parent, or are they pushing you around? We are the authority figures here, aren’t we? Let’s be real, when it comes to eating and food choices, we don’t hold much ground. We can give our kids the food we want them to eat but they can spit it out or refuse, and we are still in the same spot. Instead, we can compromise on food and leave it up to our child on how much they want to eat of it. 

2. Routines are a Must 

Our toddlers are terrible two and three tornados. They will create havoc everywhere they go, and work up an appetite doing so. Because they have tiny stomachs and big energy levels, they are always hungry. Offering a healthy snack a couple times a day, or every 2-3 hours, keeps them full in between meals. Creating a routine schedule of eating meals and snacks the same time everyday is a great way to keep them on track. 

3. Options 

For each meal, or snack, offer 2-3 options. This is a great way to ensure they are eating what you pick out, though they think they are really the ones making the choice, as they get to choose what they want to eat out of the choices you provide to them. 

This doesn’t mean you cook three full meals at each meal time, instead, offer a picture of different choices and let them point, or put out three snack choices and let them choose which one appeals to them. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. 

4. Be Okay with their Decisions 

You have set up the schedule. You have created the choices between meals and snacks for them. Now, they get to decide what they want from those choices and how much of their choice they will consume. How they eat what they have chosen is up to them. If they decide to dip their broccoli in peanut butter, or put ketchup on their spaghetti, let them. Choose your battles wisely so you aren’t exhausted by the time bath time rolls around and they want to wear their Batman Costume in the bath because it takes too long in the washing machine. 

5. Repetition is Key. Repetition is Key. 

Children have a 6th sense only they understand. You can say the word Brussel Sprouts and they will decide just from hearing it they hate it, even though they may end up being one of their favorite foods when they get older. Comfort with food is key to a child. If they connect with it, either by smell or by touch, that is a great start to getting them to eat it. If there is a particular food your child hates, leave it be for a couple weeks or so, and then try again. Sooner or later, they will take to it, and you’ll expand their food library over time. 

6. Be a Good Role Model 

If they see you spitting out creamed corn because it is vile and should only be used for Halloween pranks, chances are they won’t eat it either. Because kids are only listening when we swear, they are also only paying attention to us when we make a face or decide we don’t want to eat something. 

Furthermore, family meal time is important. Letting your child or children see you and the rest of the family eating various foods and having fun while talking about your day, they will see that you’re happy and they will follow suit. Remember that treats once in a while are fun for everyone! 

7. Avoid Negativity 

Embracing positive reactions to life is always a great way to teach our children whether it is with food, our actions, activities or how we talk. Children are little copy-cats and mimic our emotions and actions without us even realizing it. Associating negativity with foods whether you’re stating you “hate the way it tastes” or it “makes me fat” are all big negativity no-no’s. 

Relationships with food are a very serious issue because too many negative connections with food create connections of eating too much of something that is bad for them, or not eating at all because they saw you grimace at a particular food, though in their mind they are associating your look with all food, not understanding it was for one particular item. 

Remember, kids are brand new to so many events, actions and thoughts that we take for granted daily. We are teaching them how to relate to so many things every day, and we need to be very aware of how we react to things. 

To circle back if you’re just skimming and doing the TLDR route, I’ll sum it up by stating that setting up a schedule, creating routine and choices, and really paying attention to your positive and negative feelings and emotions are what your little one’s are using to develop a relationship with food, and 

how they react to the choices they are provided with. Our kiddos ultimately make the final decision of what is going in their mouths, we’re just along for the ride, providing back seat driving and hoping we reach our destination unscathed. 

And if you or your family are still struggling to figure out how to manage your child’s sleep, please don’t hesitate to book a 15-minute FREE consultation with me or one of my consultants! We’re not here to pressure you or sell you anything at all – we’re here to listen and come up with solutions so you can get back to the most important thing in your day – SLEEP! 

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