Every parent knows that it can be a fight to get your baby or toddler to eat. As they get older and begin to form opinions of their own, they want to exercise their freedom to express their dislike for the food in front of them.
Sometimes you just feel like giving up, but then you remember…you can’t let your kid go hungry.
So, how do you get your fussy eater to sit still and eat what you give them?
Tips to Feed Your Fussy Baby
1. Focus Only on Feeding
This may seem like a no-brainer, but you may not realize there are little things you allow at the table that detract from eating. This includes actions, behaviors, and objects.
If your child has a habit of doing something at the table that seems “innocent,” make sure it is not their way of creating a distraction. Even though it was super cute when my 18-month-old wanted to give high fives when it was mealtime, I had to put a stop to it when I realized they kept her from eating.
Television is a big no-no when it comes to mealtime. It is the biggest distraction over anything else. Keep TV time separate from mealtime to create good habits and keep your child focused on eating.
2. Eat Together
After running after your little one all day, it is easy to want to put them in their high chair with a meal or snack so you can get a few things done around the house or just sit for a few minutes to breathe.
However, this may be more of a distraction to your child and may actually keep them from eating.
Occasionally, I decide to wait to eat my lunch after my two-year-old goes down for her nap. I will sit her at the table with her own lunch and do some cleaning around the house so that I don’t have to worry about her pulling things out or running around at my feet.
And every time she spends her whole lunchtime making commentary on what I’m doing.
You can prevent distractions by eating together, setting a good example for your little one by showing them proper eating habits.
3. Relinquish Your Control
As babies grow, they develop a sense of independence. Eventually they want to try to do things on their own, like putting on their own clothes and shoes, and even feeding themselves.
Sometimes the idea of trying to hold their own spoon or eating finger foods on their own is more appealing than being fed by mom and dad. They may be more likely to eat more – and willingly – if they are feeding themselves.
Don’t be afraid to give them control. Yes, they will be uncoordinated at first, and yes, there will probably be a mess, but if it means they will happily eat, go for it!
4. Make it Look Attractive
There is something about a nicely decorated plate that makes food look more appealing. Why do you think professional chefs take put so much focus on plating their dishes?
A nicely arranged meal may have your little one more receptive to eating it. You can create fun shapes or make faces using the food on their plate.
The plate itself can also make a difference. Look for a plate with a fun shape or design, and ideally one that has separate sections for eat part of the meal. Your child may be more excited to finish eating so they can see the picture on their plate.
5. Make it a Game
“Here’s the plane coming in for a landing…”
We’ve all seen it, and we’ve probably tried it at least once. We try to create games that will be entertaining while the food is being eaten.
You can pretend that the spoon is a plane as it swoops down into your baby’s mouth.
As your child gets older, you can also make it a competition. Try to race each other or see who can eat the most of their food.
6. Use a Food Chain to Introduce New Things
Believe it or not, kids can be SUPER picky, and this pickiness can extend as far as only eating a specific brand or type of food. I mean, if you give them chicken nuggets but they aren’t shaped like dinosaurs, the world may as well be ending.
To break your child of this habit and get them to try new things, you can go through a gradual transition, also known as a food chain.
You typically want to food chain away from an unhealthy component of your child’s diet and move them toward a healthier option.
Using our example of chicken nuggets, you can start by offering a different brand of nuggets. Once your child accepts the new food, you can move to something with a similar shape or texture, such as grilled chicken.
Eventually, you can introduce fish as a replacement and continue expanding their menu from there.
7. Accept there will be a Mess
I will admit that I am one who does not enjoy messes. I always dreaded the thought of my child feeding herself and ruining her clothes or getting her hair all clumped up with sticky food mess.
Eventually, I got past that and just accepted that if I wanted her to be successful in her eating habits and independence, I would need to clean up a mess.
Yes, messes can be a pain, especially if you feel like you need to bathe your child after every meal, but as we mentioned before, independence when eating can lead to greater success in overcoming your baby’s fussy behavior.
8. Don’t Rush
Your child will likely never adapt to your schedule; they simply don’t understand the concept of time. So, you will quickly learn that you need to adjust your schedule to their timing if you want to get anything done.
Plan your mealtimes. Don’t try to squeeze it in when you have a few minutes or right before you are trying to get out the door to an appointment. If your child feels rushed, they will likely be more resistant to eating.
9. Know When to Stop
Sometimes you just need to pick your battles. Sitting at the table for hours demanding that every crumb is finished is not going to work.
Sometimes compromises need to be made. You can ask for one more bite or for one part to be finished before you end the meal.
Other times your child may just need a break. You can tell them you will wrap up their food, and if they get hungry later, they can finish.
Not every child will be a compliant eater, and it’s important to know how you can get a fussy child to eat to ensure their nutrition isn’t lacking.
Do you have a picky eater you need help with or know someone else who does?
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