I tell my moms that fussy eating in the toddler years is normal, a right of passage almost. So I was expecting Gethin to go through it too. He has been such a good eater since birth eating everything and anything we offered him. People commented on what a good eater we had! Well...aged 2 years and 3 months, the fussy eating period has hit us hard!!
For the last say 3 weeks he has been refusing meals and crying when we say "dinner! come to the table". I must agree it is worrying and also annoying. I worry about his nutritional status and about my sleep following a refused evening meal.
But I have had a good talking to from my inner paediatric dietitian. Here is my advice to myself, whats working and whats not working.
1. Megan...stay calm and ignore food refusal. Forcing them to eat makes it worse!
This is easier said than done isn't it moms? Like I said I worry about his nutritional status and about my sleep when his tummy is empty. But I am sticking to my guns and maintaining the 'take it or leave it' 'I decide what we eat, you decide how much or if you eat at all' approach. I think as soon as we start popping out the kitchen with alternatives its game over!!
What helps is putting something on their plate that you know they will eat, maybe something they chose. Last night I made quiche. There was a drama before we even sat down to eat - I don't think he had even seen what was on his plate at this point!! But when I showed him the plate and there was the wedge of cream cheese which he asked for earlier (I said he could have it with dinner which was in 20 minutes) he came to the table , sat down happily and demolished the quiche!! Giving them that little bit of choice / that little bit of independence can go along way. Don't change the meal, just allow them to choose something to go along with it. This morning I chose weetabix for breakfast, he chose the 100's & 1000's sprinkles (which i accidentally and annoyingly left in full view). He ate all his weetabix! The trick is not to offer too many choices. leave it at 2. If they still refuse then accept it and try again at the next meal time / snack time.
Another thing that helps is offering 2 courses. We always have "pudding" and he always eats that!! Its not a reward and he doesn't have to eat "dinner" to get pudding. Sometimes I put pudding on the table with dinner and allow him eat what he wishes from the variety. Sometimes we bring it out after everyone has finished dinner. I'm still deciding what works best for us! We make pudding nutrient dense with something like fruit, yoghurt or cereal and i'll often let him choose between 2 options. Pudding isn't a full alternative meal, he asks for more but we insist that if he is still hungry he eat from the other food on the table. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. My husband and I will also eat pudding (even if its a spoonful of cereal which we really didn't want!) to reinforce that its part of the meal and not an alternative. At least this way he has eaten something hey?
If Geth refuses to eat, we accept that and leave him be. I won't force him to eat because I truly believe that will make getting him to come to the table even harder! I want our dinner table to be a happy place! "You don't have to eat it" is a common phrase in our house. He will be offered food again at the next mealtime/snack time and sometimes this is breakfast 13 hours later. We offer food 6 times a day and at lunch and dinner there are 2 courses (that's 8 times) and so there is plenty opportunity to eat.
2. Monitor his growth and give him a multivit.
This really helps. Knowing he is continuing to grow well takes the pressure off. He is obviously getting the calories and protein needed to grow from what he has chosen to eat. The multivit will supply some micro nutrients.
3. Eat together
We always have had him at the dinner table with us but on the odd occasion I haven't managed to get dinner ready I will sit him at the table alone. Firstly, I feel bad that he is eating alone and secondly he really does eat better when eating in company!
We also try cook together. He refused this particular meal! But I will continue to get him in the kitchen as the evidence is strong on this one!
4. Watch the snacks and drinks before a meal!
Geth is hungry when we fetch him from school between 4 and 4.30pm. Starving hungry!! Giving him a snack at this time improves his mood immensely and the tantrums that flowed at this time have disappeared since we implemented the after school snack. What I have noticed is that his intake at dinner is greatly influenced by what I offered for snack. Its a good 1 1/2 hours before dinner but the day I gave him a sandwich for snack he didn't eat any dinner (obviously right?!!!). We seem to have a better chance with dinner if he has snacked lightly! A small fruit, a cracker, a Gethin sized handful of pretzels are our go too!
5. Analyse his intake over a week
He eats well one meal and refuses the next. He has good eating days and bad eating days. We win some we lose some!! Over the course of a week...he has eaten something every day, he has actually eaten more meals than he has refused and he eats across all the food groups each day. Looking good!! Relax!
And so we wait for the phase to pass! I WILL stand my ground and I am so grateful that dad, nana and aunty are all on my side. This family support helps! Get everyone to agree to the same strategy!