Why you shouldn’t stress about your toddler’s fussy eating

It’s a familiar scene for all of us mums. You’ve slaved away over the family meal for hours and hours on end. 

You picked something that should be a crowd pleaser, something that you know EVERYONE loves and should result in empty plates. In our house that meal is shepherd’s pie, but meatballs and spaghetti go down pretty fast too. 

As you present the meal with a flourish and a smile, your kids eye the meal with a disdainful eye. It’s not looking good. When your toddler gets a bite on their fork and sticks out their tongue to taste it for the briefest of milliseconds, you know things aren’t looking good. 

Then they throw their fork down in disgust and declare they don’t like it. This meal, the one that you’ve cooked a hundred times to huge success, the one that you cooked last WEEK when everyone demanded seconds, has been rejected. 

Recently meal times have become increasingly like playing a game of Russian roulette in our house. I have absolutely no idea whether my kids will chow down what I offer up to them with eyes pleading for them to eat at least a few bites. 

On occasions like this I will often resort to a slice of toast – at best – or a bowl of ice cream – at mid-range level – or a generous helping of Haribo – at absolute worst. 

It’s become a more consistent issue now and it pains me to have to bin or freeze uneaten plates of food. 

When I was weaning my eldest I panicked over her intake of food constantly. This was partly because I didn’t want her to stop sleeping through the night – totally selfish and totally justified I feel. It was also because I didn’t want her to start dropping weight. 

That first year is a frantic race to the finish line of weight gain goals – or rather a race to keep up with that diagonal line indicating weight gain centiles in the red book. 

Waiting for the results of your child’s latest weigh-in is a bit like waiting for the results of an extremely difficult exam. You hope you’ve done enough, but you’re just not sure you’ve managed to meet the requirements. 

That worry continues in the second year and beyond, as you not only worry about them eating enough food, but also about nutrition. Will they be struck down with rickets if they keep refusing yoghurt? Will they have iron deficiency if they don’t eat their greens?

But I’ve decided not to stress about a few wasted potatoes and peas. 

The fussy eating habits of toddlers is the stuff of legend. It’s easy to get bogged down with what’s happening in our own home, but we need to remember that this, like all of the other annoying childhood phases, will pass. 

The key thing that I remind myself of over and over again is that it’s not all about what they eat in a single day, but what they are eating over the course of a week. If you’ve managed to get at least a few full meals down them, then you’re doing pretty well.

I’m planning to just keep offering the foods that I want them to eat – the home-cooked roast dinners, the pasta sauces, the vegetables – and not give up. 

If I have to chuck them a few extra bits of toast here and there, or rely on fish fingers six days of the week, then I’m not going to lose any sleep about it right now.

If you don’t believe me, then believe the boffins from the University of Bristol. This week they announced that a study of kids with picky eating habits found they still grow to be a healthy weight and height. 

The researchers looked at the height, weight and body composition of children aged between seven and 17, comparing those who were picky eaters at the age of three and those who were not.

Overall they found picky eaters grew normally, and over two thirds of them had not been underweight at any point.

So I’m feeling totally relaxed about my picky eaters, although I am hoping they will love my shepherd’s pie again one day.

Is your child a fussy eater? How are you dealing with it?

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