Whether you are just embarking on the adventure of solid foods with your baby or are trying to coax a fussy toddler into trying a stick of carrot, here are five weaning mistakes you can try to avoid which may help reduce mealtime madness.
We all want our kids to grow up healthy and happy. But feeding young children can be a challenging experience, especially when you’re faced with a toddler who has figured out how to press your buttons at the dinner table.
Mealtime fussiness can be minimised, however, by following a few simple tricks. Here are five tips to get you started.
Don’t leave it too late
Until six months of age, your baby needs only human milk or infant formula to grow and develop. However, around the six-month age mark your child’s nutrient stores can no longer be met by milk alone.
“Studies have shown an increased risk of allergies when solids are delayed past seven months,” says Lynsey Bradley, child nutritionist and owner of Sydney-based nutrition school Tuckshop. “There is also a risk that your baby will lack iron and some also say that delayed introduction of solids can lead to very fussy children!”
No-one wants to play mum to a fussy eater but to avoid this all you can really do is introduce a variety of healthy foods at an age-appropriate time. The rest is up to your little one and, of course, luck.
“One to two teaspoons of apple, pear, avocado and sweet orange vegetables are all good first foods,” suggests Lynsey.
Don’t offer too much, too soon
When you’re introducing new foods it’s a good idea to try and think like a toddler. Imagine being bombarded with a whole world of colour, taste, smell and texture for the first time. Which one do you choose first? Do you even like that weird, red squishy thing? What if it tastes like that other green, slippery thing that you really didn’t like?
“At the beginning it is a good idea to introduce foods nice and slowly, in a secure comfortable place with lots of encouragement. This is really quite a big milestone in your baby’s life so it takes a bit of getting used to,” explains Lynsey.
“After a couple of months you can really start to expand their repertoire by introducing a wide range of new foods and it’s great to keep experimenting with different tastes, textures and colours of food prepared in different ways,” she says.
Exciting as it may be to prepare sumptuous meals for your kid, rein in some of that enthusiasm in the early days. Introduce one food at a time and stick with it for a few days before moving onto another. This will give you time to see the effect it has on your baby and also give your baby time to adjust to the new sensation.
Let your toddler try finger foods
When your baby starts to pick things up with their hands and move them to their mouth — usually between six and nine months — you can start introducing finger foods.
“Finger foods expand independence, dietary variety, coordination, fine-motor skills and are essential for jaw and dental development. Self-feeding will hone the skills of chewing, gripping, pincing and biting so it is important to encourage our children to master these new techniques as early as possible,” explains Lynsey.
Not only are finger foods essential in helping your little one develop good speech habits, but they also provide your child with more control over the food they eat. This is especially helpful for parents of fussy eaters who may prefer to pick and choose from a selection of finger or table foods over being spoon-fed purees.
Let your toddler decide how much
Every parent will at some point be faced with a tantrum at dinner time. Whether it’s an over-tired toddler who is refusing to eat, or one who wants cookies and ice cream before dessert, meal-time tantrums are common but not necessarily unavoidable.
According to experts at the Sydney Children’s Hospital in Randwick, most toddler feeding problems may actually be caused by well-meaning parents who want their kids to eat a balanced and healthy meal, but may have unrealistic ideas about just how much and what kind of food young children need.
It may seem strange but it’s perfectly normal for your toddler to eat less now than when they were a baby. The reason behind this is that babies grow rapidly — typically gaining one kilo every eight weeks — whereas toddlers may take six months to gain the same amount of weight. Toddlers don’t eat much because they don’t need much so forcing your toddler to sit through a meal they’re not interested in will do more harm than good.
Don’t be tempted by sugar and spice
If you have a fussy eater who seems to be completely disinterested come dinner time, it may be tempting to offer sweet or salty foods just so your child will eat something.
“In this instance it is good to broker a deal with the child: They must try the food — if they don’t like it they can choose not to eat it, but they do need to try it. They also need to understand that there will be no treat foods on offer if they choose not to eat. It is really important to be consistent and if you threaten you must carry through with it!” says Lynsey.
No healthy child has ever starved to death from stubbornly refusing food so if they decline the healthy dinner you have prepared for them, so be it.
If your child rejects a certain food, calmly clear it away. Keep offering healthy foods to your child — some children need to be offered a food up to 15 times before they’re prepared to even try it — and it’s a good idea to offer an old favourite alongside something new so your child doesn’t have to go hungry.