Around 8 months onwards you might notice that from time to time your darling little ones becomes a fussy eater on hunger strike. Picking at everything you offer them and pushing their plate away or in Lottie’s case sweeping it all on the floor or chucking it over her shoulder! As a first time mum I had to draw on every ounce of patience and take several deep breaths while encouraging and coercing Freddie to have a ‘taste’. As a three year old we still have this from time to time and even his favourites will be rejected (sweetcorn fritters, custard, quesadillas, bananas and yoghurt).
I have definitely found that with Lottie I’ve ‘trusted’ her instinctive appetite more and found that some days she’s hungry and some days she’s not and that’s ok. All my fears of night waking, poor daytime sleeps and general grumpiness seem totally unrelated to her not eating so DON’T PANIC a healthy baby is not going to starve themselves. Obviously if you are concerned about your baby’s development or they have health concerns this may be a different issue for you.
How common is a fussy eater on hunger strike?
Most babies and toddlers go through phases of being fussy eaters, turning their noses up at the delicious meals their mums or dads have prepared. There can be lots of reasons for these phases and just because they haven’t eaten what you offer them definitely doesn’t mean they don’t like what’s on offer, as often they won’t have even tasted it. There are many different reasons why a toddler might go through a fussy phase, here are just a few:
- Teething and sickness – teething seems to effect poor Lottie a lot so thinking up meals that are easy to chew and swallow as well as nutritious always helps. For Freddie I found smoothies and home-made ice-pops were a great option when his teeth really hurt him.
- Change in routine – some toddlers might react to changes such as starting daycare or the arrival of a new sibling by rejecting food. You can be pretty sure that once they get used to the new routine they will start eating again.
- Asserting their independence – toddlers are finding their place in the world, testing boundaries and learning about acceptable behaviour. Refusing food can bring about some great reactions!
- Busy, busy, busy – life as a baby on the move or toddler is full on. Mealtimes may feel like a chore, stopping them from playing and getting on with their own agenda.
There are a few facts that are worth keeping at the front of your mind when your little one is going through one of these fussy eater on a hunger strike phases.
- Appetite – once your baby reaches about 1 years old their growth rate will decline and as a result they won’t be as hungry.
- New food aversion – it can take 10, 20 or even more tastes of a new food for your toddler to like it. I also try to remember that we don’t all like all foods. So why should toddlers have to?
- A healthy baby never starves themselves – if you are concerned about your toddler’s eating habits and feel they are not thriving or meeting their milestones, or that the fussy phase has been prolonged talk to a health professional who will be able to give you more advice or at least put your mind at rest.
I have a few tried and tested tricks that seemed to work some of the time:
- Separating foods – toddlers often go through a phase when they like their foods separated rather than mixed up. So try cooking meatballs with veggies and pasta on the side rather than spaghetti bolognase!
- Make the portions smaller – you can always offer seconds. I included a guideline to portion sizes that I find really helpful in my recent post Tips on how to get an 11 month old to eat more breakfast. Most Mums and Dads expect their toddlers to eat more than they are and feel that their toddler doesn’t eat enough.
- Eat together – making eating social and offering a role model can help some toddlers. Frustratingly when Freddie is in one of his fussy phases he will always eat at other people’s homes or with other children, just not with me!
- Try out a variety of tastes and textures – variety can help encourage eating. You may also find your toddler has a preference towards certain textures or tastes.
- Make it look exciting – draw smiley faces on fritters, have lots of different colours and arrange the meals you are serving up appealingly to entice your fussy eater to have a taste.
- Give them independence – give them finger foods and their own cutlery, even if it is messy. Being a grown up eater might be incentive enough to do some eating!
- Encourage a ‘taste’ – I try and offer a taste of a new food alongside familiar favourites and rather than making Freddie eat it all I try and encourage him to taste the new food and give him lots of praise and encouragement for giving it a go.
- Involve them in choosing and preparing meals – when Freddie is in a fussy phase I make a real effort to include him in choosing and making foods. A limited choice of healthy options, for example weetbix or eggy bread for breakfast, kiwi fruit or apple for a snack, chicken or fish for tea.
- Limit ‘treat’ foods – It is so easy for your toddler to fill up on snacks that are probably not all that nutritious between meals, so that when they sit down to a meal they are not hungry enough.
- End the meal if it’s going nowhere – If Freddie is refusing to eat, instead of offering a whole array of alternatives I give him the option to get down. Generally half an hour or so later he’s hungry and eats what I had offered him earlier with much less fuss, although he will usually ask for something else first.
- Keep calm – as frustrating as that phrase is, especially when muttered by my well-meaning husband, it definitely is the key to success. If I’m feeling stressed about how much Freddie is eating he definitely eats less.
Thankfully Freddie’s phases as a fussy eater on hunger strike are short lived and in the days after he eats about three times as much as I do! We would also love to hear your helpful hints for getting a fussy eater on hunger strike to gobble down their meals.