Relax, your fussy eater is not going to starve

September 9, 2016

It can be hard having a child who refuses to eat what’s on the plate. Here are ways to deal with it

Shauravi’s son was a champion eater. Until the tender age of 14 months. There was much initial success with homemade baby cereal experiments. She was patting herself on the back for his evolved taste buds. And then, it all came to a crashing halt. He stopped eating. Everything. Except milk and cheese. There was no luck with airplane spoons, songs or any amount of cajoling.

Thank god for a sensible paediatrician at the time. He wrote out his diagnosis and it was not what she expected. But in hindsight, it was also entirely accurate. He wrote “I have reassured his mum that this is just a case of him asserting his independence. He will eat what he wants, when he wants. And at this stage there is no need for further investigation provided he continues to thrive.”

Do not be stressed out by what other kids are eating. Or people asking what’s already keeping you awake every night: “Why is your kid so skinny?”

Feeding your child is such an emotional process. It’s what we want to do for them, to watch them grow and be healthy. Here are things that helped us manage the tantrums along the way.

Try not to make food a battle

In rare cases this could also lead to eating disorders at a later age. It’s not easy to back off, but do try saying, “You don’t have to eat it” even though your head is willing you to say the exact opposite. Doing this consistently made a difference.

Keep a little diary of what your child actually eats in a day

Ask everyone who has been around them. You will be positively surprised. Kids pick up a toast here, a fruit there, a cookie elsewhere as they go through the day. It all adds up. Just because your little one is not eating massive main meals doesn’t mean some degree of snacking is not going on.

Stock up on easy, high calorie munchies for small victories

Nut butters are high in good fat, protein and calories. It’s surprisingly easy to make peanut (or almond) butter in your own kitchen. A little sprinkling of raisins made it a winner in our home. Two or three large spoons make up a solid number of calories (almost 200) in a small serving. Cheese, oat bars, fruit, nuts are all handy too. In a nutshell, be prepared for little appetites to munch on bits and pieces at odd times.

Plan menus ahead

We all tire of eating the same thing day in and day out. Write down what your child does like and work around it. It might be that they just like finger food. We made dal kebabs and fish cutlets, with little bowls of colourful dip.

On the worst days, get help

For a while, you may need to ask other people to step in to solve what can become a mom vs. baby battle. You can enlist others in your family, or the help at home, to feed your child. And just 20 minutes of a favourite cartoon can go a long way. Some people might not agree, but I’ll take a full stomach over a bit of
much-maligned screen time.

Don’t invite them to eat

If you can bring yourself to do it, then for a day don’t ask them to eat anything at all. You will normally find that just by doing that your child will soon be asking for food themselves.

Take a chill pill on what they can’t eat

For us, the absolute no-no’s are sugary drinks, outside fries and coloured, excessively sweet junk food. But we also believe in the old adage that the only poison is excess. Some days your child might just want to eat cake (and don’t you too?). So seize the day, and bake a cake, or say hello to Betty Crocker together. There might be days when your little toddler wants to eat only raisins and drink only milk. Just let them do that. They are very unlikely to continue this the next day.

Consider supplementing

Get a good supplement they like (a syrup or a chewable, gummy one) and ensure they take it. If their diet is difficult, try to avoid any inadvertent micro-nutrient deficiencies. One spoon of fish oil if you can.

Don’t compare

Do not be stressed out by what other kids are eating. Or people asking you the question that is already keeping you awake every night: “Why is your kid so skinny?” If someone says it once, let it go. If it happens again, do gently ask them to not keep repeating it. You don’t want your child to feel like they have an eating problem or to learn ways to exert unnecessary control over you.
At the end of the day, if your paediatrician says there are no growth and height delays, then just let your child breathe a little and don’t give in to junk food; it will pass.

Eat your own greens

If you eat your broccoli, they will too. So in all your anxiety, don’t forget to be the good example.

Shauravi Malik & Meghana Narayan,