+ Well Nourished | Feeding a Fussy Child

The Well Nourished Child – trust yourself

My first child reliably slept through the night from when she was just ten days old.  I remember going to my first mothers group at the child health clinic and doing the rounds of group introduction.  When I announced that she fed like a baby elephant and slept through the night, I can remember the death stares I received from all of the other exhausted mothers (who many months later, confirmed they hated me at that very moment)!  However whilst I sat listening to their tales of sleepless nights and screaming babies, I was struck with fear.  The clinic nurse was reassuring the other mothers that it was quite normal for babies to feed every four hours.  As I sat there listening I became more and more convinced that there was surely something wrong with my child!  If not, she was becoming malnourished going eight hours without a feed.  I became obsessed with weighing her and even started waking her in the night and forcing her to feed.  She was in the 90th percentile so I clearly needed my head read!

Then my son came along almost four years later.  Let’s just say he was not the easiest baby to mother and again I started questioning what might be wrong with this child.  Was I not producing enough breast milk, was he starving…..  Anyway, my point is two-fold.  One, every child and person are different, their needs, likes and dislikes are as individual as they are.  Secondly, we all worry too much.  In hindsight, I should have just trusted in the knowledge that I was doing the very best I could to nourish my kids in every way.  That they were ok.

Which brings me to my post… I know food fussiness is a major concern for many parents out there and that’s understandable.  Children are growing and developing continually, which means their cell turnover is much greater than during adulthood and their need to be nourished is magnified.  They need real food to do this, pure and simple.  Food that is recognised by the cells in their tiny bodies.  The human body has not evolved to recognise synthetic, chemically laden foods, pesticides and herbicides which are all designed to interrupt and kill living systems.  There is no place for these things in a child’s diet.

However, as a parent, I understand that it is the toughest and most time-consuming job of all.  Whilst I post on the best case scenarios in my health posts and recipes, there is no place for obsessing over every morsel that passes your child’s wee lips.  The point I am trying to make all round, is that as a parent we have to trust that we are doing our best.  We also have to trust in the HOW we feed our children, which is something we do have control over.  The what they will and won’t eat, will evolve and change all of the time.  We can’t always have complete control.

So here are a few more of my thoughts on developing healthy eating habits.  My kids are pretty accepting of most foods, but far from perfect and they have definitely tested many boundaries over the years.  There are things I’ve done right and areas I’ve failed.  I think we need to identify our misgivings in order to correct them.  These are snippets of areas many parents of fussy kids might like to address and I will discuss these things in more detail in coming months.

To recap
I know it’s been said, but I have to say it again…please build a food culture.  Food is social and the experience of sharing is more nourishing than just the physical.  I’ve spoke about the importance of eating as a family here.  Kids also need to understand the origins of their food.  For more on getting kids involved, click here.  Working on these two points may be all you need to convert a fussy eater.

Out of sight, out of mind
This is so obvious but needs to be said.  Only buy whole foods – the foods you want them to eat.  Also, you should only eat the foods you want them to eat (at least in front of them, especially when they are little).  You are the most important role model and hero of this story; so you need to take charge and lead the way!  If you have treat foods in your house, please allocate them to the top shelf or somewhere out of site.

Be in control but not a dictator
This is an area I’ve struggled with, the control freak in me takes over sometimes!  Set boundaries around food, this is critical.  But here’s the tricky bit.  Don’t let it become a sore point, eating should never be a chore and do let them have some input.  So you may like to give kids a choice between a couple of options.  For example ‘muesli or porridge for breakfast this morning?’  This should never be open-ended like ‘ what do you want for breakfast?’  Choice is good, but you are still in charge.

Honour their own needs
Everyone is different.  If your child is hungry, feed them food.  If they are full, not hungry or unwell, leave them be.  I’m sure we all have some inbuilt fear of starvation.  Maybe it’s a primitive thing that we need to make the most of each meal because we don’t know when the next may come?  But how many of you pressure or bribe your kids to eat more, or worry they haven’t eaten enough?  They won’t starve so let them decide when they’ve had enough.  Trust their instincts, you don’t always know best.

Practice patience, positivity and praise around food
Avoid labelling food as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy.  Kids don’t care about these things, in fact, many kids like to be a little bad.  Kids also sense any anxiety you may have around food and from a young age they often use food in power plays.  I’ve got so much more to say about this very soon.

Before this post becomes a thesis, I will finish up.  I am used to helping families one on one, naturopathy is a very personalised approach to healing.  I know nothing of your issues (if indeed you have them), so in order to help you, I need to know how and where you need help.

I’m sure you have many questions or even objections to some of these points.  PLEASE voice them so I can plan the best way to tackle this vast subject.  These points are little tips, designed to get you thinking and COMMENTING.  Is there an area you feel you’ve gone wrong or an aspect of your kids eating habits you’d like to change?

So let me have it.  What are the issues you have with fussiness?  How can I help you to develop healthy eating habits in your children?
Is there something you’ve found works in resolving food fussiness with your own children?  Please share so we can learn from one another.

 

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  • Lucy

    Wonderful post!! x

  • Nat

    Spot on G. I think we also go wrong by using food- and often not the best food, as a reward. Oh you’ve behaved at shopping so you can have some lollies. Guaranteed you’re going to be under pressure to buy those lollies every single time you go shopping. Kids are cunning!

    I’m interested for the future, how you get around situations where friends have junk and you don’t want your own to have it ie you’re out with another Mum and they buy their kid one of those Barbie fruit drinks or something..

    • Yes that’s why treat days are great – removes the temptation to use food rewards. Thanks for your input, will post on peer pressure soon and why processed food is seen as kids food and feeding kids real food is unusual. G x

  • Sally

    I too stressed about food when my kids were young…if only I was more relaxed. I have taken a different approach now and try to follow the rule of “it’s your job to provide your children with wholesome, nourishing and healthy food – not force them to eat it”. Happy to say this approach works most of the time :). Nat has raised a very good point, one that I know many parents can relate to.

    • A great approach, yes we just need to teach and role model healthy eating and healthy food choices. Thanks for sharing. G x

  • Anita

    Yes, good points Nat.
    Georgia, I would love if you could maybe help me out! I have ALOT of trouble getting my 3 year old to eat any meat or vegetables. We have tried almost every trick in the book, but to no avail. I make all these wholesome, healthy meals, but she wont eat them! On the upside she eats alot of rye wraps with avo, fruit and brown rice. I have though about maybe getting a multivitamin for her, as I think she is missing out on essential nutrients. Help!?

    • Just keep offering, hiding and doing what you need to to include vegetables and meat where possible. Also make sure you have a protein source (even non meat) in each meal, as protein is just so important (nuts, seeds, quinoa, dairy, legumes etc;). See my protein post here for more detail.
      A multi only replaces the micro nutrients (vitamins and minerals) but may be of value. Blackmores and Swisse do good children’s formulas. Hope this helps. I will continue to keep offering ideas on food fussiness so stay tuned! G x

  • Sharon

    Hi G, both my boys are pretty good eaters of most things but baulk at salad, are they too young or do I need a different approach to make them eat salad? They find it if I try to hide, or just refuse to eat it if out in the open on their plate! Loving your posts by the way! S x

    • Hi Sharon. I’m assuming it is the green leafy part they baulk at? They are never to young to be offered salad (in fact I’d suggest the earlier the better so it becomes a ‘normal’ part of their diet). Some things you could try:
      1. See if your eldest is interested in washing or spinning the leaves when you make a salad. Participation is a great motivator for them to try it.
      2. Chop or tear the leaves up into small pieces.
      3. Always serve the salad in a bowl on the dinner table so they can see YOU dish it up to yourselves.
      4. Always include things in the salad that you know they’ll like (carrot, tomatoes etc and even non vegetables like cubes of cheese).
      5. Ask what part of the salad they would like (if they can’t talk, just put a little of everything), dish a lot of what they do want and a tiny bit of what they don’t. If they kick up a stink about it being on their plate, just say ‘That just sneaked in there’ and tell them to push it aside and keep eating.
      6. Drop little hints about how the salad is important to make them stronger, faster, smarter or what ever appeals to them individually. I often even drop a hint that a favourite super hero relies on the salad for his super hero strength. Just little hints whenever appropriate, no nagging or ‘eat this because it’s healthy’. Keep it positive and always gently praise them if they do try or eat some.
      7. Just always put a couple of leaves on their plates regardless. It can take years of doing this. I know my kids were both around 3 years old before they ate leaves happily. I think the texture is not always appealing to small kids. Don’t give up and keep reading my post for more tips.
      8. Look at my greens post for other ideas on getting kids to eat them here. Good luck, G x

  • Vikki

    It’s me again! My 3 yo will go for days, sometimes weeks without eating any dinner…is this normal?

    • I watched a behavioural based (as opposed to nutritionally based) feeding fussy children program once and one of the case studies, a very tenacious child, went for 12 days eating very little (as she wasn’t getting what she wanted). But your issues may not be behavioural? Have you worked with a naturopath or nutritionist? I would question zinc deficiency where a desire for food and restricted palate are issues. You poor thing, having professional support is so important. G x

  • Tiredandfrustratedmum

    Hi Georgia, firstly, I love your site and all the nourishing and delicious recipes you have. I have a three year old son (an only child) who was diagnosed with a neurological impairment (a metabolic disorder confirmed by genetic testing) in September 2013 and also with Coeliac Disease in February 2014. His eating has always been poor in both quantity and range of foods. He has very limited communication (mostly points and grunts) and I was told his appetite and range of foods would improve once on a strict gluten-free diet, however his range of foods has actually decreased. He will occasionally taste a new food but mostly spits it out and refuses it after that. All the time I spend doing therapy and preparing/offering him food is exhausting! We quite regularly offer at least three different meals for dinner – waiting at least 30-60mins between each one. The first is usually the same as what we are eating and the last being something we know he likes otherwise he wakes during the night demanding food. We have tried having him watch us prepare food and helping and eat food, making it into a game etc. without success. I have to admit I do give in to giving him processed food – e.g. rice crackers, vegie chips, GF frozen fish and chicken tenders. It just worries me because he has almost no weight gain most of the time – he’s 11.2kg and has been for months. I’m just so scared he is going to waste away to nothing. He also has tantrums when he is hungry but doesn’t want what he’s being offered and because I am so tired I end up giving him what he wants. I still always offer him fresh fruit, vegies and red meat prepared in different ways but he just will not touch them or he picks each piece up one by one and throws them on the floor or pushes them away. I am now relying on Vital Vegie powder by Super Foods for Kidz, Sustagen Kid Essentials (full of sugar) and an Activated B Complex by pureinnovation. I hide chia seeds and coconut oil as well as all the above in his rice cereal which he always eats but is this enough?

    • It’s no wonder you are tired and frustrated, I feel for you. I’m not in a position to offer specific supplementary or nutritional advice online (it would be a dis-service to you both). But based on what you have told me I think you need professional support and I really feel seeing a great naturopath is your best bet.

      My preliminary thoughts are to start with supporting his gut function – this is important for his coeliac, neurological impairment (even of the genetic kind), and to stimulate his appetite and desire for food. Many herbs and supplements can support this, but also take a look at some of the things you can do at this link here. Start at the post at the bottom and work your way up. http://wellnourished.com.au/category/digestion-and-food-intolerance/

      I have worked with a very similar sounding case to your son many years ago with amazing success (I’m sorry I no longer consult), but I genuinely feel the right practitioner would help him a lot.

      All the very best, and look after yourself! You can only do the best by him if you are in good health too, G x

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