Getting your child to eat a varied diet is something that a lot of parents struggle with. It’s high up on my list of parenting anxieties and concerns and is even more at the forefront of my mind because of Joe’s Cystic Fibrosis and Pancreatic Insufficiency. (In short Joe has to have a high calorie diet and vitamin supplements because he lacks the enzymes which help digest fat and nutrients from food and needs to take them artificially via a medication called creon micro. This lack of ability to digest foods can lead to many problems including weight loss and poor growth.)
Joe went through a stage a few months back where he would only eat brown food. His diet pretty much consisted of weetabix, milk, chips, chicken nuggets and chocolate with the odd grape thrown in for good measure. I was tempted to let him live off this diet as it is calorific and he was putting on weight well- his team at the hospital said not to worry and that he was doing great- but I couldn’t deal with the mom guilt, especially watching him regurgitate fruit at toddler group while all the other kids happily chowed on down on their veritable rainbow of fruity non- brown delights.
He wasn’t always like that, when weaning he would eat anything you gave him- olives, curry, ragu, veggies…but at around the age of 14 months old that stopped and the regurgitating began.
We had screaming fits, we had food thrown on the floor, we had “no it’s YAKKY MOMMY!!” at every dish I put in front of him that didn’t consist of his limited list of brown delicacies.
Now though I have to say it’s starting to get better! Joe will be two on Thursday and he has a healthy appetite and is starting to try new foods regularly regardless of colour although he still struggles with texture. His weight and height are fantastic and the team at hospital are very impressed with how well he is growing (he is on the 98th percentile for height and weight) which in turn will help him fight off bugs and infections and keep him generally more healthy as the time progresses.
Here are some of the techniques I’ve used to help Joe become braver with food and enjoy a more colourful diet.
- Cut out bottles I was reluctant to do this at first because I was worried that Joe might lose weight if he stopped having his bedtime and nap time bottle of full fat milk- I could always rely on the milk to help him fall asleep and also to fall back on if he refused to eat his tea that day. With the help of a handy viral infection that caused him to have a very blocked up nose which made it difficult for him to drink from a bottle I got him to stop drinking milk. It was difficult at first because he had always gone to sleep with a bottle of milk, so we had to do a bit of controlled crying- but within a week he was going to bed bottle free and settling himself. This free’d up extra calories and tummy space making him hungrier in the daytime and therefore more willing to eat what was put in front of him.
- Eat dinner together as a family at the table I have to admit I was often guilty of letting joe sit in his high chair in front of the tv while eating his dinner. He also ate his dinner separately from me and Rob because he was hungry earlier and we had always been used to eating later on. But I decided to change that and create family meal times together. Now every meal time Joe sits at the table in his high chair and even if I am not eating I will sit with him although more often than not we eat together. There is no TV or toys allowed during meal times and focus is fully placed on eating our food as a family. This has not only made him eat better but has encouraged him to eat a wider variety of foods and has been a lovely way of us all spending quality time together.
- Try something new reward chart After doing a bit of research on the internet I thought I’d give reward sticker charts a try. Joe responds well to stickers when he has to have things done at the hospital so I thought I could transfer that to him trying new foods. He now has 17 stickers on his reward chart- that’s 17 new foods he’s tried since starting including blueberries, gnocchi and pesto, cheese and eggs which is a major achievement I’d say! The reward chart i went for is a free printable which you can get here. After ten new foods are tried Joe gets a non food based reward- he got a toy ambulance for his first award and loves it, and often points to his chart and says “try something new!”.
- partitioned plate There are loads of partitioned plates and stuff out there so do your research online to find one that will suit your little one. After looking at some reviews I went for the oxo divided plate shown below: It has a rim that can be removed around the outside to stop food spillages, specially sized sections for different food groups and a handy middle bit to put red sauce! (Joe is a big fan of tomato sauce!) I found that Joe responded much better to new foods when they were separated out into individual sections- I started by just trying one new food at a time, filling the other sections with his beloved brown food and didn’t push him to try things if he didn’t want to- letting him have a bit of control over the situation actually gave him the confidence to try new food.
- flash cards Whether this helped or not I don’t know but I read somewhere that children who are introduced to images of different foods in books and play were more likely to try them in real life! So I printed out these great flash cards of fruit and vegetables- whether it’s made a difference to his food intake I don’t know but it’s definitely improved his fruit and veg vocab!
- cooking together I had been trying to get Joe to eat cheese for ages as it’s a great way for him to get extra calories, fat and calcium especially as he’s given up his bedtime bottle. He would not touch it no matter what I did until I tried making cheese scones with him. I got him to help with the weighing and measuring and mixing the cheese into the flour and low and behold he started eating the grated cheese right out the bowl! He even picked it out the flour mixture to eat which must have tasted gross but he loved it! Now all I have to tell him is that cheese is “cheese scones” and he eats it! This has led to him eating cheese on toast and cheese pizza neither of which he would eat before!
- praise praise praise! Finally one of the best things, but sometimes quite a frustrating thing, is to praise him for the good behaviour and ignore the bad. It’s quite difficult to ignore bad behaviours around food when you’ve just spent half an hour cutting his sandwiches into stars and creating a culinary delight only for him to blow a raspberry at it and shout “Yakky!” but after a little restraint and a lot of praise at the good behaviour (You really have to ham it up- we give rounds of applause and whoops of delight after he finishes his dinner and sticker ceremonies for trying new things) it starts to reap benefits.
He still won’t eat rice, pasta or anything that resembles a leaf but he is getting there and I think the above techniques have helped, so if you have a picky eater give them a try for a couple of weeks and see how things go- try to relax around meal times as kids can sense your stress and also look at what they are eating over a week rather than over each meal to determine if their diet is ok- sometimes kids just aren’t hungry but make up for it at other times further down the line. And remember be kind to yourself- just because your child won’t eat peas doesn’t make you a bad mom.