Feeding Fussy Eaters. How to Successfully Introduce New Foods to Your Toddler
Guest Post by Speech Pathologist Kimberley Lockly of Learn and Grow Speech Pathology
Kimberley Lockly is a Paediatric Speech Pathologist with a background in Early Childhood and a lucky Mum to three young children (including two twin girls!). Kim has worked as a Speech Pathologist in Community Health at Sydney Children’s Hospital. She has also worked for a large Non-Government Organisation supporting children with disabilities. She now has her own Speech Pathology Practice in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire called ‘Learn and Grow Speech Pathology.’ She is passionate about learning through play, sharing good quality information and empowering families to set high expectations for their children’s communication and feeding and achieve them! She says she has the best job in the world.
How to Successfully Introduce New Foods to Your Toddler
I know I’m not the only one that has read some fantastic articles on the best kinds of foods for my little people. I’ve taken screen shots, bookmarked and pinned them with the best of intentions. However, reality soon hits.
“How am I actually going to get that nutritious meal into that little tummy?”
Lucky for me, as a Speech Pathologist who works with families and children with feeding challenges, I’ve got a few extra tricks up my sleeve. There is no “one fits all” magic solution for getting our kids to eat the foods that we’d like them to, but I’ve put together 7 of my top tips for how to best set yourself (and little people) up for success when introducing new foods to toddlers and young children.
The obvious one: Are they hungry?
I’m sure everyone has heard the saying “They won’t starve themselves”.
I personally have seen lots of evidence to the contrary. One thing is for sure. If they aren’t hungry, don’t try to introduce an “iffy” food to a fussy feeder.
As a general rule, children will eat a better quantity and variety of foods if they have around 2.5 hours between meals (including snacks). It makes sense. If you are still pretty full from lunch and somebody offers you a biscuit then you may take it, however if its a bowl of broccoli on offer then you might pass. Having hunger on your side may be the difference between your child reaching for the avocado or not.
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Take the pressure off
Introduce new foods with foods they already like and eat. Making mealtimes a battle is not only stressful for us as parents but is also stressful for our children. Mealtime arguments doesn’t lead to improved long-term eating habits (in fact, quite the opposite). Don’t force it. As parents, it is our responsibility to offer appropriate and safe foods to our children. It’s up to our minis to decide whether its going to make it past the lips.
“All well and good” I hear you say “but I can’t just let them go to bed hungry”.
So how do we marry these two needs? Firstly, it’s a great idea to offer any new foods alongside foods that are already in your child’s repertoire. So if they love plain pasta but you’d really like to see them have some beef casserole, then serve both. It makes the whole plate seem less intimidating to them and you can breathe easy knowing that even if they don’t touch the casserole, something has gone into that tummy. Try to hold back from trying to persuade (or beg!) them to “just try it”. The first step is often just about exposure. Tolerating it being on the plate (or on a nearby “learning plate” if need be) is a win in itself.
Choose foods that are similar to what they already like and eat
If your child usually only eats white, crunchy/dry, salty foods then offering moist, soft, peculiar tasting avocado is highly unlikely to be a success. Instead, try to just change one property of the food. So maybe you stick with crunchy and salty and go for an orange veggie stick crisp, or maybe stick with white and crunchy and try cutting a crisp apple into sticks. Texture is often the most intolerable thing to change for children. Sometimes this is linked to an underlying muscle or co-ordination issue (if you think this might be the case, seeing a Speech Pathologist who is experienced in feeding is a great idea), sometimes a sensory issue (Occupational Therapist domain). Sometimes its just about what the child is comfortable with. Whichever it is, moving slowly by changing only one aspect of their “pattern of preference” will be much more likely to get the results you’re hoping for.
Model eating it in a social environment
Does anyone have that child that is super difficult to feed at home but daycare says eats everything and asks for seconds? Its incredibly common. Part of this is likely the social environment that children eat in at childcare. They are sitting down eating the same thing as a group of other people who seem to be enjoying it too. Sometimes this alone is all it takes to increase a young child’s willingness to try new foods.
Ideally children should eat their meals and snacks with at least one other adult who is eating the same things as they have been offered. This gives them the “OK” that it is safe and yum, as well as giving the opportunity to show them good eating behaviours like sitting at the table, using cutlery and chewing. Family style serving (where the food is put in communal pots in the middle of the table and everyone serves some onto their plates) is a really great way of setting this up. Try to avoid commenting on what they are and aren’t eating – but instead on the food itself (e.g. “Oh yum. This carrot is really crunchy!”).
Consider the timing in the day
Evenings are hard – for everyone! Like us, our kids are often tired, over (or under) stimulated and have used up their coping mechanisms for the day. If dinner times are tricky, try introducing new foods during daytime meals.
Present it in a deconstructed way
I LOVE the way my parmesan cheese melts on the hot bolognese sauce that I’ve mixed through my zoodles. That is a nightmare of a set-up to my son! Its easier for children to see new foods presented in a deconstructed way (each food served separately) so that they can process the different parts separately. It also means that if one particular element is an absolute “no go” that it doesn’t write off the whole meal. Tacos, pasta and salads are easy meals that can be served in a deconstructed way without increasing the amount of preparation required.
Make it fun!
Remember that actually chewing and swallowing a food is the very final step in learning about foods.
You will never hear the phrase “don’t play with your food” at my house! Play is a great way of having your child interact with a food that they won’t usually eat. Maybe those carrots are wheels on the bus you made out of his bread? Maybe the peas are eyes on the Veggie Man’s face? Broccoli? – obviously trees in Dinosaur Land! Food play takes the pressure right off and has the potential of getting your little person closer to actually putting the food into those chompers. If all they do is touch or lick the mash off their fingers after drawing pictures in it, then you are both ahead of where you were yesterday!
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