How I Make Sure my Toddler Isn't a Fussy Eaterby Kirsty Taylor-Moran
In all honestly this perhaps ought to be called ‘how I make sure I offer my toddler a broad range of foods’ because he has very clear preferences for food already and isn’t shy about refusing to eat something he doesn’t fancy. Typically, this is when it’s a well-researched recipe that has taken considerable prep and cooking time and he decides he’d much rather decorate the table/high chair and floor with it rather than even have a little nibble. Let’s face it, we all know we can’t force a wilful child to eat something they don’t want to, and nor should we.
We have a really narrow window to expose children to lots of different flavours and I’ve been on a mission since we started weaning onto solids to make sure Cassius gets used to strong flavours in cooking. I’m realistic in that I do anticipate him going through a phase of loving beige food in the future, perhaps insisting all sauce goes on the side and for me to need to start hiding veggies in meals. We cook with lots of seasoning and spices at home, and we all eat the same meal together. I avoid salt, use low-salt stock and if we are using lots of spices I’ll probably add a spoonful of yoghurt to Cass’s plate to make the heat more tolerable. He always surprised me with the flavours he seems to enjoy, his current favourite is very spicy rice!
Lockdown probably makes it a little easier to meal plan, especially when food shopping is the main outing of the week these days. I like to make sure we have a good selection of grab and go snacks ready to be shoved into a pocket if we are going out on a walk and I don’t want to be tied to the dining table for all mealtimes. When I’m doing the weekly meal prep for our family, I’ll make sure I’m getting some snacks ready too. Baked egg ‘muffins’ with ham, cheese and leftover chopped veggies go down well. Homemade oat bars are very quick to prepare and are a really bland base to get creative with; I add chopped dried fruit or nuts or desiccated coconut. Fruit is a popular choice because it’s so sweet, we try and buy different types of each week to keep it interesting. As a family, we make a conscious effort to reduce our plastic waste and I want to limit the amount of processed sugar Cassius eats whilst he’s still blissfully ignorant of the existence of Haribo gummies. Reusable pouches are a godsend for this, it’s easy to choose a low sugar yoghurt and add the perfect portion. All of the convenience of a frube with none of the nasties!
We base main meals around a protein and then add lots of green veg and Cass will typically have a starchy carb alongside those. Aiming for at least 3 colours on a plate has really helped me make sure his diet is balanced. In addition to this, I’ve tried to stay away from getting stuck in a rut of only preparing food I know he likes and will eat well. If there’s a dish he has eaten with particular enthusiasm I will find a way of switching it up; he liked tuna pasta with sweetcorn so we tried again a few days later with salmon and peas, really similar textures and familiar tastes but some exposure to different foods. I like to try the same foods in different formats too; steamed broccoli stems on his plate paired with fresh cheesy veggie nuggets that have broccoli as the main ingredient.
Taste buds change over time so don’t be afraid to try a disliked food again and again. I don’t pressure Cassius to eat what’s on his plate and I don’t praise or reward him for eating well. It can be incredibly frustrating to spend ages making something tasty from scratch only for it to end up on the floor or flicked across the table, but it is very important to not let this disappointment show. Children should not be praised for eating everything on their plate, but it is possible to encourage them to eat well without giving them a complex about food. Cass can be particularly fussy with squishier textures- he always has a look of pure disgust on his face when he’s presented with food like mashed potato or hummus. I continue to offer them but encourage him to dip veggies into the hummus so he isn’t overwhelmed by something soft in his mouth. Same with the mashed potatoes; I mould it into patties and briefly bake or fry so it has some grip to it. I’ve found as he’s developing his use of cutlery this is less of an issue because he can keep his hands clean.
How can we expect little ones to want to eat a wide range of different foods and flavours if they are not regularly offered different dishes, try something out of your comfort zone and your toddler might surprise you.