The other day I was visiting my brother in law, and saw my new little nephew graze onto carrot sticks like it was the yummiest thing in the world! He’s 15 months old and eats regular food and dare I say, with a smile on his face…
This made me go “Aww…” and also at the same time “Ouch!”. Got a little pang in my heart thinking I want a baby like this. A baby that will eat everything without any fuss! Now I am worried about a future baby that is not gonna eat enough, and I swear to god I find myself losing sleep over it sometimes! If this is any indication of what is to come, my heart goes out to all the moms who are in fact dealing with this issue!
So let me give y’all biggg hugs 🤗🤗🤗 and let us see some tips and strategies to help you with your baby’s feeding issues 🙂
Enough Vs Plenty
It’s the age-old struggle over what parents think is best for kids and what children actually need! In this case, parents think it’s their right to decide what, when and how much the kid should eat; and in a repressive and ignorant society like ours, parents do very blatantly exercise this right of theirs!
I was an extremely fussy eater as far as I remember. I was my parents first born and they wanted me to ‘be’ and also ‘look’ healthy. They would run behind me with a plate full of Ghee-Rice every meal time. And during snack hours, well this is what snack hour in Nikam household would look like, literally every single day-
“Mom will put me on her lap. Dad will secure my hands and feet with his hands (that way I won’t be able to kick or move) and if I pursed my lips tightly they will pinch close my nose, that way eventually I would open my mouth (to breath). They will then push a ladle full of milk down my throat (I remember regurgitating most of it out anyway)! So yeah for many years I dealt with total aversion for milk and milk products…”
This type of forceful feeding leaves children with some deep scars and fewer opportunities to learn self-control! Read more on how force feeding backfires here.
Children usually are pretty in tune with their hunger cues and fulfilling their energy requirements. They will ask for food when hungry and will stop when they are full.
The problem is most parents think that kids do not know when to eat or they won’t eat instinctively even if they get hungry, which is exactly the opposite of the fact! Like any other animal’s youngsters, human children too are genetically wired for survival. They will eat to survive unless of course there is some underlying medical condition involved (if your child refuses to eat instinctively for a longer period, please consult your pediatrician!)
Reasons why your child might not be eating
- Your baby is growing: Transition from being an infant to a toddler and from a toddler to a walker does a number on your baby’s appetite. Firstly, during infancy, their nutrition needs are VAST (in first 6 months their birth weight doubles and in the first year it almost triples!). But as they grow older their energy needs and consequently the appetite as well declines. Around the same time, their personality is also developing. They start asserting their likes and dislikes, which brings us to our second point.
- Picky eaters: Children (just like their parents) are designed to like certain tastes more (sweet, salty) than others (bitter, pungent). Same goes for different textures, if something feels gross in their hands or mouth, they will spit it out (see tactile defensiveness). Also instinctively kids always go for the most calorically dense foods (survival instincts again!), which can irritate any mum who wants her kid to eat a variety of foods and get optimum nourishment.
3. Neophobia: “fear of new things” might explain why kids are unsure of trying new things and feel safe and certain about the foods that they have already tried.
4. Tooth: a new one coming or an existing one aching will surely put your little one in an awry mood!
5. All work no play!: Although most mums would prefer their child sitting relatively quiet and not bringing down the house so that they can get their work done; but this lack of physical activity might just be the reason why your baby is not getting hungry!
6. Constant Nibbling: Having snacks throughout the day and specifically right before a meal will sure kill your baby’s appetite.
7. Bad Memories! : This one time I ate tomato chutney and later on vomited (because of fever, tomato chutney had nothing to do with it!) but still for months I had developed an aversion for the food. Same is true for toddlers too. Maybe yours is not eating a certain thing because of a negative association with the food item!
What to do then? Presenting-
10 tried and tested expert solutions
- Monkey sees… Monkey Does!: Your toddler is looking up to you for behavioral cues. If a parent is a picky eater and refuses to eat, let us say spinach; your smart and impressionable toddler is surely gonna catch up on that and follow in the exact footsteps. Mothers have to be extra careful in this regard as they spend way more time with toddlers than fathers do.
- Food fights are just not right!: Now this will be a difficult one to act out but stay with me! Your toddler sometimes will try to exert their independence by rejecting food served or try to negotiate with you. Meal table then becomes a war zone. In such cases, I plead you to fight the urge to chastise your child. No matter how tempted you might be to give negotiations a try (so that your child will clean up the plate), DO NOT do it! Trust me ignoring them and changing the topic will help your child in the long run as they will learn a valuable lesson that ‘fights and negotiations are bad ‘table manners’.
- Create Nurturing Ambience: Make your baby’s meal times as quiet and as relaxing as you can. This means no TV, no tablets, no running around or older siblings playing around. All these things will just distract your toddler from eating (coz be honest, if you are a 3 something-year-old would you rather eat or play around?!)
- Got a finicky eater on hands?: Toddlers (just like grown ups) sometimes get tired of eating a certain food (even if it is their favorite)! Or sometimes they refuse to eat just to assert their independence or to gain some attention (kids love to test your limits…that is how they learn what behavior is acceptable and what is not). In such instances again be very patient and do the following-
- Keep reintroducing the said food item every few days but do not force the kid to eat it! Just place it on their plate and do not even discuss it. Eventually, the kid will give it another try…
- Or if that does not work then find an alternative. Sneaking helps (sneak vegetables in paratha, sneaking milk in the milkshake, fruit in porridge etc.). This will also boost the nutritional value of the entire dish.
5. Mommy’s little helper 😗: This one really works!
“Remember me being a fussy eater and my mom running behind me with food! Well all of that stopped gradually as my mom started getting me involved in kitchen activities. My designated responsibilities included washing vegetables/fruits, observing her chopping skills, and bringing water in from a communal water boring (yes..back in the days those used to be a thing!)”
PS: I also used to give a pretty cool running commentary on what is going on in the kitchen “तेल टाका.. जिरी मोहरी टाका.. मसाला टाका.. पाणी टाका.. मीठ टाका.. हलवा हलवा.. आणि भाजी टाका.. कालवा कालवा!”
Getting kids involved in activities like dough making, batter mixing, making their own plate, washing vegetables, pouring their own milk tend to get them emotionally invested in the process.
This makes them appreciate food more and also spikes their interest in eating the finished product!
This trick also works well in case of Food Jag.
6. Meal table Rules: Have a structure. Have set meal timings so that your child’s rhythm of hunger will match and he/she will be hungry at meal times. Usually, 3 meals and 2 snacks work well.
- Grazing throughout the day is a big No-No as it will kill your baby’s appetite for meals! Know more here.
- Offer a variety of healthy options but let the child decide if and how much they would want to eat. Some days they will eat less but they tend to make up for that by eating well on other days!
- Give your child some power! Toddlers tend to be very opinionated about what they put inside their mouth (because eating is one of the very few things that they have control over). So if they are saying “No” to something, let it be!
- No cooking on demand! Do not stop cooking certain foods because your kid doesn’t like it. Likewise, do not fall prey to any impromptu “I want Maggie” demand! ((no matter how tempted you might be). The kid needs to know ‘what is cooked is cooked!’
- After meal time is over, clean up the table. If your child hasn’t eaten the even quarter of their meal, still no extending meal time just for them. Take away the plate so that they know the meal time is over. And whatever you do, do not beg or run behind them with a plate full of food!
8. Introducing new foods: This must be done by introducing only one new food at a time, that too in small quantities (remember food neophobia!). The best strategy is to introduce these foods during first half of the day when the kid is less tired (they tend to refuse to eat when tired); you can also introduce it during morning/evening snack times when they are most hungry.
9. Gagging: happens if your toddler is eating too fast or eating something that they don’t like! To help, cut foods in smaller bite sized pieces and encourage them to chew it and eat slowly.
10. Who’s the real culprit?🔎🔎🔎 “Juice is!”
Juices are loaded with sugar and if consumed in greater quantities are no better for your baby than a regular soda! They also silently kill your babies’ appetite.
So stick to the rule of no more than 4 ounces (half a cup) of juice/day. You can really go a step ahead and dilute it with water.
“So my rock-star mommies, if you think your baby is not eating enough, yes there are ways that you can go, there are strategies that you can implement and there are tricks that you can try! But before you do that, take a moment and examine your own motive! Are you really worried because your baby is not eating or are you worried because your baby looks scrawnier than the neighbor’s baby? Your baby is probably eating how much ever he/she should be eating. Only time you should be worried is if your pediatrician measures your baby’s growth and concludes that their growth is stunted! In which case I hope this article will be of some use to you :)”
Find a pediatrician near you @DawaiBox.
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She is a Registered Dietitian who does not believe in dieting; She has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition but she is not your “I know it all Nutrition Guru!”; She loves food but loves talking about food even more. Her articles are a direct reflection of her personal quest where nutrition science meets real life! Oh, and she is owned by a 3 m.o. naughty kitten 🙂