15 simple hacks to make your fussy eater eat healthy
“My 3year old is a fussy eater!”
“My toddler is very picky about his eating habits!”
“We are fed up of daily dining table battle with our fussy eater!”
Sounds familiar??? Well,
You are not alone. In a recent study from India, 58.9% of preschoolers were found to be picky eaters! So, actually majority is on the side of fussy eaters, isn’t it?
Who is a “fussy eater”?
Ok, so who do you call a “fussy eater” or “picky eater”?
Fussy eater is a child who rejects certain types of food or is unwilling to try unfamiliar foods. They would simply complain about the taste of food, push the food around the plate, keep the food in their mouth taking ages to finish it or hide the food items. Some of them are picky at home but enjoy eating at parties, restaurants or relatives’ homes.
So which category does your Mr or Ms Choosy belong to?
My little one would enjoy food at parties, rejecting home prepared meals. He finally came around when I used the tips mentioned in coming sections. He is six now & we eat together on the table. No fuss! No mess!! Dream come true…
Picky eaters usually appear to be growing adequately , as they usually consume adequate calories in the form of milk or their favorite foods. However, due to being choosy, they are likely to suffer from deficiency of micronutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A, B or C or folate. This deficit affects their attention span, causes irritability & decreases their immunity. You surely don’t want that to happen, ryt?
And guess what? You won’t need to worry after reading this blog & implementing my simple hacks. They have worked for me twice & rather for most of patients, they will surely do wonders for you too.
Why do picky eaters become fussy?
Picky eating behavior is mainly seen in toddlers. Most of the children outgrow this habit by the age of 5 years. But, if this issue persists beyond 9years of age, you need to consult your pediatrician. Here I am listing a few common causes as to why the picky eaters actually become fussy.
a. Slow metabolism: As your baby reaches second year of life, the rate of growth slows down. They reach three times their birth weight by one year but now they are gonna gain only 2-3kilos in a year. As a result, their metabolism & appetite decrease drastically. Hence, it is obvious that they will eat a little less.
During their intermittent growth spurts, they will seem to be eating more & then during usual days, it will again hit the baseline.
b. Battle of control: As your little one grows, she starts identifying herself as an individual. Saying “no” when you are running after her with a spoon, gives her a feeling of control. Some of these babies use food to get more attention & control over family. Changing your parenting style can do wonders.
c. Fluctuating interests: The kiddo also starts developing food preferences, which are ever evolving. The favorite food of today might be hated next week. Likewise, he might suddenly open his mouth to a veggie which was not going down until a month ago. Just like a pestering boyfriend, Never Give up!
d. Inappropriate weaning: Best time to introduce different foods to your little munchkin is 6-12 months when he is still learning new tastes. Failure to add varied food textures in second half of first year might give rise to fussy eating habits. Watch these videos to know how to include different tastes in your baby’s diet at the right stage.
Why does this era belong to picky eaters?
Many of you might think , “I was not a fussy eater as a child! Why does my baby behave like this?”
Your MIL must be commenting every other day, “Hamare zamaane me toh aisa nahin hota tha! Yeh aak kal ke bachche…..”(It was no like this in our times. Today’s kids & mums are different”).
Why is it so? Why are so many kids choosy about food these days?
Here are your answers
a. Decreasing family size. We grew up in the era of large families. We would eat sitting together with our cousins. And, moms wouldn’t even know many a times that feeding chore was already over.
Now, most of the households have two busy parents, a non -interested maid & a super pampered child. All the onus of feeding nutrition to the child is on the mother who is already juggling multiple jobs. What happens next?
In a bid to finish our job, we are after the little one to finish his meal. This undue pressure irritates the toddler & she ends up being cranky, pushing away every other food.
b. Parental misconception. Some parents take weight as a criterion for a health. If their child is lean, they will keep pestering him to eat more, without bothering if he is hungry or not.
A chubby looking “golu-molu” child is not always healthy. He might be normal weight or overweight but deficient in essential nutrients. At the other end of the spectrum, a lean child might be normal weight according to his age & well nourished , if he is eating a balanced diet.
c. Undue parental concern. Are you a couple who have made your kids’ eating habits a sore point in the household? Do you wake, sleep, eat over “did the baby eat?” “what did she eat?”
Give it a break dear. Kids sense anxiety & stress in the air. Its perfectly OK to want to feed a nutritious meal to your child, but don’t make your dinner table a battleground! Tackle it peacefully. You will know “how” in the next section.
d. Media: When we were kids, we used to watch TV only for an hour or so. And, all the advertisements we used to see were of Amul butter, Nirma detergent , etc. Now, one or the other kids’ show is always available on screen & every 10 minutes there is an ad for packaged food – chips, cold drinks, candies & what not! When a toddler sees these items all the time, she perceives that this is what she should be eating, not the food being served to her. UK is already planning to ban all junk food advertisements online. Soon, it will be a fact in India too.
How to fix fussy eating behavior
Enough of science & research. Lets get down to the solution.
Here are some of the measures which helped me in my journey as a mom as well as a Pediatrician. These suggestions are based on my experience, knowledge & recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Keep in mind your baby’s taste while cooking food. You can keep spices on the lower side. If your little one doesn’t like a particular flavour, you can use gentle spices like cinnamon or cardamom (elaichi) to mask it. Keep the texture a little dry so that child can manage it himself. If you are serving a gravy dish with rice, better mix the two in plate before handing over to your toddler. Avoid giving over ripe fruits and slimy foods.
Respect your child’s appetite.
Try to understand your child’s cues. Feed her only if she is hungry. Do not force her to eat. If you know that she had a heavy meal in the morning & is now saying “no” to mid-morning snack, don’t fret. She will eat by lunch time. Extra food will only make her feel bloated & uncomfortable.
Likewise, don’t insist on an empty plate. You choose “what is to be eaten”. Let him decide “how much is to be eaten.”
Keep a tab on their snack timings. If they stuff themselves with a snack at 7:00pm, they are unlikely to eat dinner at 8:00pm.
4. KISS the meal.
I mean “not literally”:) Keep It Simple Sam. Instead of making it a five-course meal, try simple menus with different combinations of nutrients. For example, pulao with curd will serve rice, veggies & yoghurt in an uncomplicated manner compared to a spread of dal fry, jeera rice, mix veg, raita & salad. Similarly, a stuffed cauliflower parantha is more likely to be accepted than roti, aloo-gobhi sabzi with butter.
5. Meal times, fun & family times.
When you run after your child to finish a meal, he takes it as an exercise where he has to run ahead of mommy. Make it family time. When all the family members are sitting at the dining table, serve her plate alongside others. Tell her to keep sitting at the table till everyone finishes, even if she wants to eat only half of her food. This will avoid her rushing with the food, just to watch her favorite show or play with her toys.
Stick to one menu for the entire family. However, try to include one food item of your kido’s choice.
Don’t be a short order cook. Your child should eat whatever is served. Avoid giving in to the temptation of “cooking something else” if your little one refuses to eat. You are the boss & he will soon realise it.
Avoid TV, tablet, smartphone or any other screen at mealtime. Experts advise to even keep the storybooks aside. However, I use food time to tell them a story with a moral on good habit. It helps me connect with them during my busy schedule & keeps screen at a bay.
6. Reward, no bribes.
“If you finish your lunch, mumma will get you an ice-cream”, this is a bribe. “Finish your food, everyone is waiting to eat the ice-cream”, this is not.
When you reward or bribe your child with a dessert for finishing her usual meal, her mind interprets the main course as a chore or an unpleasant activity. Therefore, she will never develop the love for healthy food. It will always remain as a job to be finished & she will stop eating healthy whenever she gets independent. You can bribe a toddler, not a 10year old.
So, set the foundation right. If you want to appreciate your munchkin for finishing that plate of healthy meal, use non-food rewards like a pencil or small toy. Rather, even a star, a hug or a kiss will do wonders!
7. Make meal preparation fun.
Involve your kids in meal planning & preparation. On the weekend, you can make a menu for the entire week. You can list 6 healthy choices for each meal on a paper, with one “junk food holiday” or “food of their choice day”. Your little one can write Sunday, Monday, Tuesday in front of it with your help. You prepare a shopping list based on that & plan a family shopping trip with your kido. This works better with 5-6year olds, who enjoy & understand the concept of days, time of the day etc.
Invest in some cutlery with their favorite cartoon characters. I still have “Avengers” plate & “spiderman” milk mugs in my kitchen. And both my boys love using them. They are easily available online as well as at your nearby crockery store.
You can also ask them to help you in the cooking by stirring in the bowl, adding the garnish or simply putting the used spoons in sink.
When kids get to decide so many things, they stop fussing over meals just to gain “control”.
Here is a link to my webinar on ‘How to inculcate Healthy Eating Habits in Children’
Get your creative mind to work in kitchen. Tweak the food a little to serve nutritious meals, to not only the kids but entire family. Here is what I have been doing for eight years now
a. You can shred the veggies & knead them into a dough.
b. To increase protein & fibre content of food, add gram flour (chana atta, not besan), millet (ragi, jowar) flour & soyabean flour to the usual wheat flour. I usually add half kg each of chana, jowar, ragi & soyabean flours to five kgs wheat flour. Your family will be eating rotis rich in iron, protein & fibre without any extra effort.
c. Grind soya chunks & add them to any gravy dish or rice to prepare a quick protein rich meal.
d. Use iron utensils to cook & naturally increase the iron content of your meals
e. Add jaggery instead of sugar to your Indian desserts like kheer or halwa.
Toddlers love shapes & colors. Try to add different colors to the meal. Instead of calling food by name, you can call it by color like green parantha (methi/palak), white idli, colorful rice (pulao)
You can cut parantha or pancake into a fun shape using cookie cutters. Here are some of my food shapes which are loved by my little monsters.
I usually make my pancakes with a mix of flour & millets from the scratch (stay tuned to my next blog for yummy recipes). However, on a busy day, I rely on ready-to-use pancake mixes from Slurpfarm & Little Moppet. They have a lot of options in both sweet & savory varieties. Moreover, they are preservative-free & easily available online. What more can a busy mom ask for!
9. Be the role model.
For kids, parents are their first idols. They will copy what you do.
You want them to eat at the dining table?
You too do the same.
No screen at meal time?
Avoid looking at your phone while eating!
They are expected to eat a balanced meal?
Fill your plate with right portions of healthy food.
Try to avoid any argument at meal time. Make it a pleasant family experience.
10. Variety is the spice of life.
Add some spice to your meals too. Wanna know how? Download your free meal plans here
Encourage your little one to try new foods. Offer new food in small quantities, alongside the usual one. If kido rejects a particular item, wait for a week before reintroducing it.
11. Never give-up.
Heard the story of “King Bruce & spider”? This is the best time to apply it. Try, try, try, try………..again & again.
I am telling you from my own experience with my younger son. There used to be days when he would go hungry if he didn’t get his favorite food. But, we persisted. Now, he is six years old & he eats almost everything.
Of course, you have to give junk food holiday once a week or sometimes more frequently. But other days, it has to be a healthy meal.
12. Make food calorie dense.
This is particularly true for toddlers, as they have a smaller stomach capacity. They start feeling full after eating smaller volumes. Remember your granny putting an extra spoon of ghee in your dal when you were a child? well, this is the scientific reason behind the ritual. Feeding more calories & essential fatty acids in smaller portions.
Here are some other ways to increase calorie & protein density of food
a. Add roasted til (sesame seeds) & groundnuts to your poha/upma/dalia
b. Mix your usual flour with soyabean flour
c. Add ground soya chunks to pulao/rice
d. Make stuffed poori or parantha instead of plain ones
e. Make fruit smoothies to replace plain milk
13. Food Bridge.
If your child starts eating food of a particular color or flavour, try to use it as a bridge to introduce an unfamiliar food. My kids love paneer. So I usually pair it with spinach. Now palak-paneer is the favorite lunch in the household. They will even eat it with rice!
Likewise, you can sneak in lettuce with sandwich or burger, broccoli with pasta, sweet potato as french fries, etc. Get your imagination rolling mommies!
Sometimes, children who are eating well, suddenly become fussy when they are teething or there is a stress in their lives like arrival of a sibling, change of residence, loss of a near one. To tide over this crisis situation, you can introduce supplements for a short period.
I tried Pediasure for my elder son when my younger one arrived. I had to use it for a good three months, until he was comfortable with a new member in the household & got back to his older eating habits. I used to add 2 scoops in a glassful of milk twice daily(no added sugar). This helped him catch up on his growth & gradually, he restarted eating a balanced diet.
I used to order it from Amazon, so that I got the flavor of my choice, without roaming around with two kids tugging along.
I would suggest you use these supplements for a short duration only, as they are not a substitute to healthy meals.
Also, they are not to be used for babies less than two years of age.
15. Avoid using threats.
Last but not least, don’t threaten your child. Threats usually don’t work.
Avoid “if you don’t finish your lunch, you are not going to park.”
Instead use, “Finish your food fast, we have to go to the park also.”
Long story, huh?? Well the problem is also big. When its about your kids’ health, there should be no shortcuts.
When to consult your doctor
By using above suggestions, your toddlers eating habits will improve markedly for sure. However, in following situations, you should consult your doctor
- Baby not growing well: If you feel that your toddler’s growth is lagging behind other kids’ of his age, you should see your Pediatrician. Click on this link to know if your little one’s growth is appropriate for age.
- Persistent fussy eating patterns: Picky eating habits usually go away by 9 years of age. If problem persists beyond this age, you should consult your doctor once.
- Suspicion of food allergy. If your baby has vomiting, diarrhea& rash after eating a particular food, it might be a sign of food allergy. Proper evaluation by a pediatrician is a must.
Dear parents, fussy eating behavior is troublesome but it resolves with time. Do not lose your peace of mind over it. Follow the methods mentioned above & sail through smoothly.
Stay tuned for my next blog on fussy eater food recipes for Indian Children.
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. It means that if you purchase products by clicking on these links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This will help to keep the blog running. Rest assured , I have recommended only those products which I have used myself in my parenting journey.
Take care! Stay safe!!