How to Handle Mealtimes with Picky Eating

“Yuck”

Where did she learn that word from? Can I blame it on the Pig? Did I say it as a joke one time and now she’s copying me? Suddenly it’s being used all the time, not just for food but when she doesn’t want to do something. If I ask her to lie down to change her nappy “yuck”. If I tell her we are going to do bathtime “yuck”. But it’s with her picky eating that it becomes most difficult.Emma has been a picky eater since about 16 months old and gradually it’s been getting worse and worse.

Image of mealtimes with picky eating in highchair

how did the picky eating start?

I suppose the natural thing for me to do is to blame myself. I should have done babyled weaning. I should have offered her more of a variety. If only I hadn’t introduced the entire Organix range, as now she knows that the cupboard in the corner is where it’s really at. Jumbo carrot sticks and sweetcorn rings will always trump a cheese sandwich. Or is it just a phase that she’s going through to assert her own independence? I can see clearly she wants to do everything herself so maybe it’s just something we have to get through without worrying about it too much.

All I know is that one minute she was devouring every recipe in our trusty Annabel Karmel bible and now we’re down to cheesestrings, Pom Bears and crackers, so many crackers. It all came crashing down and even now she’s at nursery there hasn’t been a sudden change as I hoped there might be. Every day I pick her up and they tell me she loved her snacks, but only ‘tried’ the lunch. There has only been one exception to this rule, when she ate a Jamaican Rendang curry! Sometimes I just wish she was one of those children that dives face first into a plate of spaghetti bolognaise.

let go of the guilt – it will be okay

Of course it’s not long before the guilt kicks in. When it first happened, the frustration inside me grew as I worried that she just wasn’t getting enough nutrition. Was a couple of crackers and two cheesestrings really going to be enough for her? Isn’t it my responsibility to make sure she is eating the right stuff so she grows well. I piled on the pressure that I wasn’t cracking it until I realised that so much of this is out of my control. If she doesn’t want to it, she won’t eat.

Once I got to this moment, I was able to sigh a breath of relief that this will have to do for now. I look at her and she is growing beautifully, taller than some children at nursery and has never looked underweight. Plus I figure that if she’s feeling hungry, she will tell me. Just recently she has started to say “hun-haa”. After days of me not knowing what that means as it honestly sounded like Mandarin, it means hungry. Baby steps but definitely a step in the right direction.

so what are we doing that’s helping?

To help Emma with her picky eating, we have been doing a few things. To be honest, some days they work and other days not so well!

-Keep offering balanced meals – I try to let her decide what she wants to eat. Emma such an independent soul and usually if you leave it on the plate, she’ll have a go. But rarely if you express you “would like her to try it”.

-Consistency – I’m not always the best with this but trying to stick to the same mealtimes each day so she knows when to expect it.

-Positivity – If she says “don’t want it” or “no thank you” (the thank you usually takes some coaxing!), try not to get disappointed or frustrated. I’ve also been actively praising her for trying, even if it’s just a tiny bite.

-Remember what worked – when I find something she likes, I try and buy it often so we have a back-up option ready to go. For a while we couldn’t find anything but now know she’s quite keen on sausages and baguette.

-Discourage name-calling towards food – every time she says “yuck” , I ask her calmly to not say that word please. I’m not sure if it’s going in, but that word just makes my blood boil ever so slightly so I hope it will pass soon!

I was well aware when Emma was younger that picky eating is really common in toddlers and while I’ve been very frustrated by hearing my daughter being rude and saying “yuck”, I wondered (hoped) that I’m not alone in going through this. It WILL pass, even on the days when it feels like an impossible task to get a good meal into her. Sometimes I forget that she’s just a baby really and learning about new foods will take time. I’m sure we’ll get there in the end.

Have you got a picky eater? Do you have any tips for coping at mealtimes?

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39 Comments

  1. June 20, 2017 / 8:54 am

    Leo is only 10 months but mealtimes have never been easy…he won’t eat anything from a spoon and if you try an encourage him to eat he just throws it on the floor and screams! We’ve learned to just embrace the baby-led approach and be guided by him. Some days he eats, other days he won’t. I’m trying to be relaxed about it, but I am a bit apprehensive that this will become even more pronounced in toddlerhood. Hoping that by just offering him everything now and letting him choose what he will/won’t eat it will make things easier and avoid the battles (oh, how naive!) #DreamTeam

  2. June 20, 2017 / 10:06 am

    The good old guilt card… don’t you just love it! If it makes you feel any bette my son was the fussiest of eaters. Only ate stuff it was smeared with ketchup (hows that for guilt?!) but now at 16 he’d eat a scabby dog if it presented itself on his plate… keep with it, you’re doing a fabulous job! x
    #DreamTeam

  3. June 20, 2017 / 10:28 am

    Total mum guilt with regards to this age and the challenges of getting them to eat.

    It’ll pass, and you’ll see they’ll eat when they’re hungry.

    #DreamTeam

  4. June 20, 2017 / 10:43 am

    My littlest took ages to eat properly but now she is a fantastic eater, unfortunately she is allergic to fish so that is out of the house and off any type of menu. 🙂 x
    #dreamteam

  5. June 20, 2017 / 10:54 am

    Don’t feel guilty. There’s nothing you could have done that would have made any difference. Learning to express likes and dislikes is part of growing up and an social important skill. (As I kept telling myself as the Tubblet spat out the lovingly home cooked meal I’d made her and also said, “Yeuk”. We tried not to make a big thing about it. She ate, just not the all the things I would have liked her too. She now eats really well, but still has her likes and dislikes). Good luck!

  6. June 20, 2017 / 11:10 am

    I haven’t yet. She’s 1 and we are doing baby led weaning and living in Addis at the moment, so I hope she isn’t picky because there’s not a massive amount of choice. She has picked up everything and put it in her mouth but it’s early days. I do give her a variety (but not too much) and I give her the choice to feed herself. I also try not to have a reaction to her eating. I’m sure she will get through this stage and then she’ll be demanding all sorts #DreamTeam

  7. lisalambert38 - Mumdadplus4.co.uk
    June 20, 2017 / 12:45 pm

    We went through a funny stage with the twins now I find no snacks and just make them a meal works, not everyday but more days than not. The heat the last few days has ruined that and we have done little and often healthy snacks instead of meals. #Dreamteam

  8. June 20, 2017 / 12:45 pm

    Great post that will be invaluable to so many other new mum’s going through the same thing. Thankfully, neither of my two were fussy as baby’s, but Miss.L has become fussy the older she’s become. She’s 11 now!

  9. June 20, 2017 / 12:51 pm

    It’ll get better. My two eat me out of house and home now.

  10. June 20, 2017 / 1:59 pm

    I think they all go through a fussy stage but it definitely sounds like you’re doing all the right things. I think it’s important to try and make meals a positive experience rather than getting worked up / annoyed about it (I know – easier said than done. Aaaargh!) and it sounds like that’s exactly what you’re trying to do.

    Also CONGRATULATIONS!!!! Such fab news on the BiBs finalist thingy! Woop Woop! #dreamteam

  11. June 20, 2017 / 3:42 pm

    Ahh the fussy stage….tricky! She is mighty cute though! Well done for award nomination. You deserve it lovely. #dreamteam

  12. June 20, 2017 / 8:08 pm

    Picky eating can be so frustrating! The Popple goes through stages where she decides that she suddenly hates everything that she used to like. I know her diet isn’t always as healthy as I want it to be, but I try to remind myself that I was very picky as a child and I turned out pretty okay. 🙂 #DreamTeam

  13. Eva
    June 20, 2017 / 8:14 pm

    It’s so bloody hard. I have a very picky eater with sensory issues. He essentially eats bread and cheese only. You’re right: with positive (extra big dosage) and learning to let go (will help with other different aspects of parenthood too) MOST of the things get easier. #dreamteam

  14. June 21, 2017 / 12:23 am

    my first born was a picky eater and it drove me mad. Once I just let it go it worked itself out at rapid speed. Congrats on your finalist nod!

    #dreamteam

  15. June 21, 2017 / 1:47 pm

    Both of mine are really picky eaters Bridget. They started out brilliantly just as you say, and my youngest was baby led too so I don’t think that has made much difference. They both just got the idea that some things taste nicer than others and decided to try and hold out exclusively for those bits. To be fair I would live entirely on cake if I didn’t know better! 😉 Miss Tot is now 4 though and I’m pleased to say that we can now reason with her (read: barter with stickers) to try most things – even if it’s just one tiny bit. I think you have the best idea.
    Just leave her to it and give her some time. Thank you for co-hosting #DreamTeam with me lovely x

  16. June 21, 2017 / 1:54 pm

    My daughter’s goes through these phases all the time! Glad I’m not alone x

  17. Mom Of Two Little Girls
    June 21, 2017 / 5:57 pm

    I Love it when I’ve spent an hour cooking a balanced meal for my family, and I plate up and set it in front of them (I mean the kids, my husband knows better), and the say, “Yuk, what is that, I’m not eating that! It’s disgusting!”
    My very mature sarcastic reply: “Dog pooh, eat it.”
    They don’t. We all cry.
    The End.
    #dreamteam

  18. June 21, 2017 / 8:08 pm

    Second time round is a lot easier – less guilt, more relaxed. You just got to role with it. I was so stressed because my eldest didn’t eat a lot of fruit/veg but now loves a lot of different types of fruit and veg X #dreamteam

  19. June 21, 2017 / 8:21 pm

    I’ve been really lucky with both of mine, who both love food (any food, from any cupboard they can find, literally constantly!) However now that Amelia is older she is beginning to refuse food at home (although NEVER) at nursery. I figure it is her way of asserting some kind of new-found authority she think she has over me! We stick to the same mealtimes every single day, without fail. I also have always had set snack times (breakfast when we wake, snack between 9:30-10am, lunch at 11:30 then nap. Snack when they wake up, dinner at 4:30/5). I find on the days they have more snacks they don’t eat as well, and Amelia now knows that if she doesn’t eat what’s cooked for her, there’ll be nothing else. The only time I make an exception is if I truly believe that she ahs tried something new and genuinely doesn’t like it… I’m sure Emma will get there!!!xx #DreamTeam

  20. June 21, 2017 / 8:54 pm

    I have 4 children and they’re all different! My 10 yr old has never been fussy. My 7 yr old snapped out of her fussy stage but my 5 yr old never has.
    My 21 month old is just creeping out of her fussy stage so there’s hope for you yet! She will suddenly eat pasta etc that she point blank refused to touch for months!

  21. June 21, 2017 / 8:55 pm

    #dreamteam bless her! i found 3 things on a plate that are a winner PLUS a new one to ‘try’ worked for us, but frankly if i know anything it that small people are fickle… so who knows what will work tomorrow.

  22. June 21, 2017 / 11:06 pm

    I’m sure this is a phase that all kids go through. My 4 year old hit his recently and everything has to be plain. I won’t cook him anything special though, If he doesn’t want it he can go to bed. #DreamTeam

  23. June 21, 2017 / 11:50 pm

    My 3 year old is a great eater BUT he will suddenly go off things! Bread is ongoing trial! One day he wants it the next he doesn’t! Like you say it is best to remain positive and be consistent!
    #dreamteam

  24. June 22, 2017 / 7:36 am

    Lots of great tips shared here… Thankfully we haven’t had too picky of an eater, but there has definitely been phases with food. And such preferences also! #DreamTeam

  25. June 22, 2017 / 11:49 am

    I’m only at the start of my weaning journey but it’s good to know that if she starts getting fussy, I’m not alone #dreamteam

  26. June 22, 2017 / 1:55 pm

    Fussy eaters are hard work! I have one child who will only eat protein and one who will only eat carbs, One barely eats and one won’t touch anything with lumps in, it’s hard work!! Consistency is key, it’s just tough going! #dreamteam

  27. Mainy - myrealfairy
    June 22, 2017 / 2:42 pm

    Yes it will pass and soon it will be something else, throw the guilt out with the next bin please as it can eat us up. Look at you, you are doing a fab job. Even now at 8 and 11 my boys will throw something random in the mix at mealtimes and it just never ends. I love being a mum but I also need to get better at not feeling guilty at every little thing and realising that fads are just what kids go through and do:)
    Mainy
    #dreamteam

  28. June 22, 2017 / 9:49 pm

    It’s so hard to not react when they refuse food but keeping calm is key. You’re doing a great job Bridie x
    #dreamtean

  29. June 22, 2017 / 10:11 pm

    My picky eater is now 8 and still super picky. Her favourite word is ‘disgusting’ and will say that to food I know she likes. It’s part attention seeking, part control. Small steps and all that. #dreamteam

  30. Musings of a tired mummy...zzz...
    June 22, 2017 / 11:13 pm

    Zach has been teething and struggling with the heat so hasn’t wanted to eat much (could manage biscuits and cake though…) Great advice to reassure worried parents #dreamteam

  31. June 23, 2017 / 6:13 pm

    I think the only picky eater in this house is myself. #DreamTeam

  32. June 24, 2017 / 7:45 pm

    Ben isn’t a picky eater but he seems to have an aversion to savoury 7+ pouches at the moment. he just turns his head so we can’t force it near his mouth but give him a dessert and he’s all over it! #dreamteam

  33. June 24, 2017 / 10:41 pm

    Emma you gorgeous pickle! Bridget, we had this problem for a few weeks when Little Button first went to playgroup. Her eating word was always ‘mmmmmmm’ or ‘yum-yum-yum’ but out of the blue she started point blank refusing everything put in front of her. It didn’t matter if it was her favourite, she just wouldn’t eat what we gave her. She wanted anything that wasn’t on offer. Nothing helped, but then suddenly everything become ‘yum!’ again. No idea what we did right, but your ideas seem very sound. Best of luck! Thank you for being a fab #DreamTeam host xxx

  34. June 25, 2017 / 10:22 pm

    The worst is when they say “yuck” and you’re eating at someone’s else’s house!!! I think you’re doing exactly the right thing. I mean, I’m no expert, obvs, but I think I’d be doing the same. Also, for me, if he tries something I console myself with “I’m glad he tried it and didn’t just outright refuse it without trying”. Hang in there, it’ll all work out I’m sure. #DreamTeam xxx

  35. June 25, 2017 / 10:32 pm

    My daughter is now five and still a nightmare at meal times #dreamteam

  36. June 26, 2017 / 10:43 am

    They went from a full repertoire of fruits, veggies, proteins, to nope, nope, nope. What is tasty one day is no way going down the pipes the next. It’s an adventure is task mastering and zen mind control (mine and the Mrs. that is) so we don’t go nuts. Buy this! I will eat it! Turns rancid in the fridge in days… It’s a gamble, and yes, they are growing and looking quite nourished. Have no idea how they do it! Thanksfor tis post and the beauty shots! #dreamteam

  37. June 26, 2017 / 9:20 pm

    Ah ha I feel your pain hun. My eldest is only really now not being fussy and he is almost 4, for a long time he would only eat chips or pasta. Now he eats fruit and veg it is such a relief. It is definitely just a phase and I’m sure she won’t be saying yuck forever!xx #dreamtean

  38. June 29, 2017 / 11:49 am

    My son became really fussy around the same age and I worried quite a bit initially but I never gave in to giving him something different to the rest of us and always praised him for trying things. He’s 8 now and eats really well and will always try something new. My two year old is even fussier but we’re staying relaxed about it and she will occasionally try something she’s refused point blank before. She’ll now eat raw carrots and apples which used to be big no-nos. she’ll get there in the end x
    #DreamTeam

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