Feeding the Difficult Toddler

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HOW TO UNFUSS THE FUSSY EATER
1. Never say “healthy”
2. Avoid overacting! No belly-rubbing while saying loudly and brightly, “Yum, yum, yummy!”
3. Feed your toddler what the whole family is having. No special meals.
4. If he refuses don’t be a short order cook. If he doesn’t want what you’re eating, he doesn’t eat.
5. Keep trying. Keep offering a food the child refused the first dozen times.

If you have ever been challenged by trying to feed a fussy toddler you might have turned to the advice of the experts! The above list is the most frequently advised steps to turn the fussy eater into , well, if not a chow hound, at least a kid who appears to be getting a healthy, balanced diet. I thought it was great advice. I thought it was sure-fire advice. I thought if the adults could just hang in there and stay with the “plan” eventually they would emerge the victor. I thought every fussy-eating toddler would be transformed into a healthy-eater. I was wrong!

After raising four daughters who were mildly fussy and who eventually became adventurous eaters who didn’t turn up their noses at vegetables I truly believed that anybody with a fussy eater had only her/himself to blame. Turns out that’s not so.

The first sign of trouble. The enthusiastic eater started spitting out whatever we spooned into his mouth. He didn't like toddler "textured" foods.

The first sign of trouble. The enthusiastic eater started spitting out whatever we spooned into his mouth. He didn’t like toddler “textured” foods.

My grandson was a breastfed baby. His mother went back to work when he was about three months old. She breastfed him when she was home and pumped to make sure he had breast milk when she couldn’t be there to feed him. When he was about 8 months old she needed to supplement her milk with formula. He took right to the formula. He was also eating fruit and cereal. He was an eager, little eater. As he got a little older he got his first taste of food with a little texture. His reaction was a screwed-up, “what are you trying to do? – Poison-me?” face. Then he blew a raspberry and the food at us!

Things went downhill from there. He began to reject more food. He blew raspberries with old, familiar, foods. He flatly refused to eat what used to be favorite foods, and every new food we tried. He preferred bottles with formula. He refused food but never rejected what he now called his “boppies.” He loved formula!
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By now he was old enough for us to try the “5 Tips to Cure the Fussy Eater.” This boy was smarter than the experts. These great tips just didn’t work. It became apparent who the real”expert” was!

One evening when I was watching him as his parents were working I made some spaghetti for dinner. I fixed him a meal I was hoping he would eat. I kept in mind his preference for smooth foods and milder flavors that were slightly sweet rather than savory. He surprised me by sticking his fingers in my spaghetti and putting the saucy, noodle-covered finger into his mouth. Then he swallowed it. So I gave him the plate and let him eat it with or without a baby fork. I was just happy to find something he would eat enthusiastically.
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I repeated the spaghetti meal only to learn that it was a once-in-a-lifetime event. I was a fool to think because he ate it once he’d eat it again.

He didn’t refuse all foods. He loved ice cream, cheesy fish crackers, and of course, boppies. We also discovered he was allergic to tree nuts, legumes, sesame seeds and sesame oil. As time went on he continued to display a preference for cookies, crackers, ice cream, “pizzy” and boppies. Efforts to feed him fruit, vegetables, whole grains (other than whole grain crackers and cookies) and meat or poultry were in vain. He defied the experts. Maybe the experts would opine we should not feed him ice cream and pizzy (pizza) but when a kid won’t eat anything one starts to get desperate just to get anything into him! From time to time he’s make us feel encouraged by eating yogurt or those blended fruit “pouches.”

He's a happy, healthy, active fussy eater. Maybe if we stay the course he will grow to be a better eater but for now he continues to challenge the experts - and win!

He’s a happy, healthy, active fussy eater. Maybe if we stay the course he will grow to be a better eater but for now he continues to challenge the experts – and win!

In the meantime, there isn’t anything we won’t try to improve this boy’s eating habits. Last night I discovered that if I cut up a pear into bite-sized chunks and put it on his table and run around (and around and around and around…) the table with him and snatch a bit of pear off the plate and pause for a moment to eat it, he will too! Hallelujah!

He eats a little better when he's with his cousin but their time together is limited as she lives in a different state!

He eats a little better when he’s with his cousin but their time together is limited as she lives in a different state!

Jackie Conn

About Jackie Conn

Jackie Conn is the general manager of Weight Watchers of Maine. She is married and has four grown daughters and four grandchildren. Her experience with her own weight management journey and raising girls has given her insight into the struggles families face with weight, healthy body image, food and physical activity. She has been a regular guest on Channel 5 WABI news for more than ten years and appears monthly as a guest on FOX network morning program Good Day Maine.