Handling a fussy eater - Canpol's Mums advise - Canpol

Advice from Canpol's experienced mothers.

Handling a fussy eater

There is always a reason underlying a dislike for eating. No child becomes a fussy eater suddenly. Sometimes, children do not want to eat specific food or in the expected amount, but real problems with eating result from situations and habits we have formed unconsciously for a longer time. We coax the baby to eat using various method, often achieving an opposite effect. After some time the baby starts to treat a meal as a duty and not as a pleasant ritual. However, it does not have to be so. Here are a few tips that helped me to encourage Franek to eat:


1. Do not label the baby as a "fussy eater"

Although your baby does not eat eagerly, and has a tendency to fuss, do not call him directly or in his presence a "fussy eater". It works like a self-fulfilling prophecy. After some time the baby will get used to being a fussy eater and will accept the situation. He will resist coaxing to eat.  

2. Analyse what, how much and when your baby eats

Parents sometimes think their baby does not eat enough. Thus they try to give him more than he needs. Placing in front of a baby a huge bowl full of food results in baby's dismay and dislike. Therefore, give smaller meals, but more often. Remember that juice, puree or mousse is also a meal and not a drink. You should also treat an apple or banana as a portion of food.

Analyse what the baby eats between meals. Maize crisps, biscuits or cookies are snacks very filling for the baby, and then he does not want anything else. Thus you should stop giving him snacks between meals, and give water to drink. 

Make breaks between meals. If the baby persists in not touching the meal, do not feed him additionally before the next one. Let him get hungry, then he will reach for what is set on the table more eagerly.

3. Do not run after the baby with a bowl of food

When you run with a meal after a distracted, laughing child, the child begins to associate eating more with fun than with a ritual. Therefore, you should organise family meals at the table. A baby likes to imitate his parents, so when you eat in his presence, it will induce him to eat more than kneeling above him with a bowl in your hand. During the family meal, let the baby eat unaided, even if he is messy. It is a great challenge for him, but also a great method for learning. 

4. Do not cheat and smuggle food

Sometimes you are tempted to distract the child from food and smuggle it into his mouth. It can happen while watching TV or playing with the child and distracting his attention from food. When only an interested baby involuntarily opens his mouth slightly, we push food inside it. The baby starts to eat instinctively, does not treat eating as a voluntary and pleasant activity but as something done "accidently".

5. Treat meal as a pleasant ritual

When a child got used to fussing, you can often feel tension at the table. A thought keeps on ringing in your head "will he/she eat or not?" The child senses that and also is very excited with the whole situation. Additionally, if you try to entice the baby to eat by inventing elaborate dishes and spending laborious half a day to prepare them, then the tension increases. You expect the baby to eat gladly, and the baby feels forced to eat to please you. This does not facilitate eating with pleasure. Thus it is better to prepare something simpler and be prepared that the baby may not want to eat that. Calmness and pleasant atmosphere at the table are important, rather than whether the baby eats all you have prepared.

6. Coaxing instead of pleading and threatening

Pleading or threatening make the child feel obliged or forced to eat. The meal ceases to have its own value, when the baby hears "You will sit here until you eat it all" or "If you don't eat, I won't give you your favourite toy". 

Try to coax the child to eat by asking what he likes. Serve various dishes, encourage him to taste food. My Franek loved all that was sweet. So I often prepared fruit-based dishes. 

Sometimes the baby does not eat because he does not feel well. His cutting teeth may hurt. Lack of appetite is also one of the first signs of a cold or a symptom of anaemia. Thus, you should watch your baby. When he is not interested in anything, does not want to eat, is dejected and apathetic, you should take the baby to a paediatrician.

Joan

Mum of 3 year old Franek, 13 years of professional experience

What you may need