Since the start of the year Archie has gone from eating large portions and pretty much anything to being ridiculously picky and changing his tastes on an almost daily basis! I’ve read up a lot about it and it’s very common for toddlers to go through a fussy stage at some point and although mostly it happens nearer the age of 2, it can happen before this. We’re 6 months in and Arch is still a fussy little monkey but I’ve found a few things which have helped so I thought I’d share. If you have any other words of wisdom, I’d love to hear them in the comments 🙂
At 11 months old, coinciding with him walking, Archie became really fussy with his food. The biggest change was him refusing anything off a spoon from us and because he hadn’t quite mastered feeding himself with a spoon we went down a new route of serving only finger foods (aside from yoghurt/ custard which he could feed himself). Before this I was making batches of pureed/ mashed foods as his main meal and serving it alongside a few finger foods.
I found the transition pretty stressful if I’m honest because unhelpfully his tastes seemed to change all the time so I never knew whether he would eat what was put in front of him. The few things he would always eat were fruit (most types) and yoghurt/ custard so it’s quite clear he has quite a sweet tooth like his mummy! It was the ‘main course’ which always seemed to be hit and miss.
I soon realised that he prefers it when food is not mixed in together but each element is served separately. For example, when giving him beans on toast I always separate the beans and the toast fingers. It makes serving normal table foods a bit tricky (e.g. lasagne, chilli, Bolognese etc.) but I do try them deconstructed….with varying results! His go-to favourite dinners are: fish fingers, homemade chips and peas/ beans; sweet potato fingers with falafel/ chicken; pesto pasta. Everything else seems to be dependent on his mood that day!
I’ve learnt to try and say as relaxed as I can about it and there are days when he surprises us completely out of the blue and tries something he hasn’t for months! Here are a few things I’ve found useful when reading up about fussy eating:
- It’s normal for toddlers to eat less – As a baby Archie always had a huge appetite so when he first started being fussy I was really stressed about whether he was eating enough and probably overcompensated with fruit and yoghurt! But I’ve since learnt that it’s quite normal for their appetites to decrease as toddlers because their growth rate declines and they simply don’t need as much food. And particularly as they start walking, they become too interested in exploring the world around them that sometimes food can become a bit of a chore!
- Appetites will be affected by illnesses/ teething – Archie’s fussy spell has definitely coincided with an almost constant cycle of being poorly/ teething. And again it’s very normal that once they hit a year old, they contend with one cold/ illness after another as their immune system builds. So naturally their appetites are affected by this, as we know only too well ourselves when we’re ill or have toothache.
- Serving smaller portions can help – I used to pretty much fill Archie’s plate with food but now I just offer a small portion of each ‘element’ and then he can have second/ third helpings as and when he finishes them – that way he’s not too overwhelmed, particularly if it’s not one of his favourites!
- It’s best to offer their favourite foods alongside new/ unpopular foods – I find this one a bit challenging when I’m offering a whole meal he’s not keen on but I do find if I put it with his favourite vegetables or some homemade chips then it helps avoid a straight refusal!
- Follow their lead – At first I really tried to encourage him to eat the foods he would ignore on his plate but the more I made a fuss, the more he seemed to refuse! So now, I don’t make a big thing of it and just clear his plate away once he’s finished, ignoring the fact he might have touched very little! I’d also say it’s best not to try too much at once – perhaps add in just one new/ unfamiliar food each day so it’s not too overwhelming.
- Eat with them as often as you can – When we’re eating in a group with family/ friends I definitely notice a difference here in terms of Archie being more interested in eating what everyone else is. Frustratingly it doesn’t seem to work when it’s just the 2 of us – which it is most of the time – but if I sing songs or distract him in some other way than just focussing on the fact he’s eating that does seem to help so I’d definitely say engaging with them and making it more of a social activity makes a difference.
- Create a relaxed environment – This is similar to the above but essentially anything you can do to make them as relaxed as possible will help them to be a bit more open-minded. As soon as they feel pressured to eat, in my experience, it seems to have the opposite effect! Sometimes, we have a little picnic on the play mat on the floor and I find Arch eats so much more than when he’s in his highchair where the focus is solely on eating.
- Try not to stress – Ah sorry I left it until last because I know it is by far the hardest one to put into practice but I’ve genuinely noticed the difference with Arch when I’m relaxed and don’t let it bother me versus the days where I feel I’m tearing my hair out and throwing anything at him just to try and make him eat! Just acknowledge it’s a phase, consider giving them some multivitamins and try a mixture of new/ unpopular foods alongside their favourites (accounting for the fact these might change on a daily basis!!).
I’d love to know about your experience of fussy eating – was it just a quick phase or has it gone on for what feels like forever? Have you changed up what you’re giving to them or just persevered with one approach? I think, like with most things, there’s not a magic fix and each child is different so I’d love to know what you’ve found has worked for you.
Now that Archie is fully weaned (and entering the “fussy toddler” stage – more to come on that another day!) I thought I’d write down some things we’ve learnt along the way in the hope that they might be useful for someone else. If I’ve missed anything, please feel free to let me know in the comments.
Please note that the below is based on my experience only – I am not a health professional. Seek a dietician’s advice where necessary.
I have to say that weaning is very much like parenthood in that it’s an unknown world where you’re thrown in with very little advice and you’re expected to just “learn on the job”. It can be pretty overwhelming and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve worried about whether we’re doing it right and whether we’re making any progress.
One thing I would say is it’s very easy to forget where you started and us mums are renown for giving ourselves a hard time so if I could offer just one piece of advice it would be to try and be as relaxed as you can about it. You will get there and as long as you’re giving your baby a variety of different tastes and textures then you’re doing a great job!
So, where to start?
Personally, we started with some baby rice and smooth fruit purees. Then we added in some soft finger foods such as banana, sweet potato, peach, avocado. Moving to pieces of buttered toast, crumpets, teacakes which he would mostly just suck.
Once he’d had a taste of a variety of single flavours, I made a few mixed vegetable purees and gradually added in protein (beans, lentils, chicken etc.).
In terms of making batches of purees, I tried to make 1 or 2 batches each weekend which I then froze in small pots as I found this the most manageable way of doing it. I also mixed in some pouches to add variety and for ease when out and about.
What to buy?
- Highchair – The Ikea Antilop is by far the best in our opinion and very reasonable too
- Bibs – We prefer the popover bibs as they can’t be pulled off – these ones from Sainsburys are great
- Spoons – Longer ones tend to be easier for you to feed your baby and the shorter ones when they can feed themselves – I’ve linked the ones we prefer
- Hand blender/ blender – Any hand blender will do the job but may leave behind lumps so in the early days I just used our Nutri Ninja
- Free-flow cup – In the early days we used the Tommee Tippee first cup and then moved on to a Munchkin 360 to avoid spillages when on the move
- Tupperware for batched food – you can use ice cube trays in the early days but I found I needed a bigger portion size so I used the Tommee Tippee food pots
- Face wipes – if your baby has sensitive skin like Archie did, then it’s well worth looking into some cloth wipes rather than using baby wipes which can irritate the skin
- Recipe books – not essential (and lots of recipes online) but I found this one by Annabel Karmel really useful
From around 6 months
- Some good first foods include:
- Baby cereal/ rice (once your baby is 6 months, then Ready Brek is great mixed in with some fruit puree)
- Cooked fruit and vegetables, pureed
- Soft fruit as finger food – banana, mango, melon, avocado
- Mashed or as soft cooked vegetable sticks – sweet potato, potato, carrot
- Finger food:
- Sticks should be the about the size of your finger – big enough for baby to hold in their fist
- Make sure to halve anything round in shape (tomatoes, grapes etc.) to prevent choking
- Should be soft enough to crush on the top of your mouth so some fruit and veg will need to be steamed (and possibly skins removed)
- Introduce a cup of water with food (free-flow cup)
- If not formula feeding (and also as soon as baby takes less than 500ml of formula) you may need to give your baby a daily vitamin supplement – check with your health visitor
- Small amounts of whole milk can be mixed in with food plus your baby can have other forms of dairy as food – cheese, yoghurt, custard
- Check with your health visitor any foods to be avoided
From around 7-9 months
- Your baby will gradually move to 3 meals and you can start to drop milk feeds – for reference we moved to:
- 4 bottles at 7 months and 3 meals a day
- 3 bottles at 8 months and 3 meals, 1 snack a day
- Try to make sure that each day they have a variety of: fruit and veg, starchy foods (bread, rice, potatoes, pasta), protein (meat, fish, beans, pluses, eggs), dairy (yoghurt, cheese, custard)
From around a year
- 3 meals a day – generally eating what you eat
- Your baby can have whole milk as a drink
- For reference, we moved to:
- 1 bottle at 12 months (bedtime) and 3 meals, 2 snacks a day plus milk in a cup in the morning
- Your baby may want to start feeding him/ herself
A few things to remember
- In the early days don’t worry about set mealtimes – you will still need to fit food around your baby’s milk feeds (until they’re eating enough to drop a feed) so don’t worry if they’re eating porridge at 3pm!
- Gagging is very normal– if you’re worried about choking then I would highly recommend doing a first aid course to put your mind at ease and so you can recognise the difference between gagging and choking
- Pouches are fine but check the label – personally I don’t see a problem with adding pouches into the mix for some added variety and convenience but it’s worth checking the label because often the savoury ones contain mostly fruit and should be considered more of a sweet (e.g. this Ella’s Kitchen pouch suggests it savoury with the name “Broccoli, pears and peas” but in fact it’s 79% pear!)
- Include finger foods alongside purees – I know it can be daunting in the early days because of the fear of choking but it’s so important that they have a mixture
- Don’t be afraid to try new textures as soon as baby is willing – because of Arch’s strong gag reflex I think I probably didn’t push him enough on this so he was slow to adapt to new textures
- Mess is annoying for you but generally a good sign that your baby is enjoying his/herself so try to just go with it!
- Make eating a social event – the more relaxed an environment you can make it and the more they see everyone else eating and enjoying food, the more interested they will be
- It may take a few tries for baby to like a new food – it can be really disheartening when you’ve gone to the effort of making something and then your baby won’t even entertain it but don’t be afraid to try again – sometimes it takes a while for them to become familiar with new foods
- A note for reflux babies – Arch had reflux as a baby and I found his gag reflex was pretty strong so he couldn’t tolerate some textures – scrambled egg, rice pudding, egg mayonnaise – I just ensure he is having egg elsewhere (in scotch pancakes etc.) to try to prevent allergies
- Try as many tastes and textures in the first year as possible – after a year they tend to become fussier (I can definitely vouch for this!)
- It won’t be a smooth upward journey – illnesses and teething can sometimes feel like you go 10 steps back but don’t worry about it, let your baby guide you, they will go back to eating when they feel ready 🙂