I have so many people come to me and say that their toddler or young child barely eats anything, they only want milk. This often ends in a vicious cycle – the parents worry that they’ll be too hungry or doubt they’ll eat whatever is planned for the next meal so they give the milk… then the child is full of milk so is not hungry for food. The less the child eats, the more milk they’re given by worried parents and again, they eat less. It can be hard but if a child is full of snacks or milk or juice they are going to be less likely to try anything new or eat their next meal.
Have you joined the Little Bites Facebook group?
It’s a safe place to ask questions, get support, have a vent or share those little successes that not everyone will understand! Another great bit of it is that I’ve added recipe and food files to give you ideas of food to try, whether it’s hidden veggies, snack ideas or healthy options to keep your challenging eater’s weight up.
If this sounds good to you join up here.
There are quite a few things that parents worry about when they have a challenging eater. Here are some of the most common things that might be leaving you feeling like you’re the only one…
What you’re going through is not unusual for the families of children with food aversions. If you feel you would like some support, a place to vent or somewhere to be able to share those little steps forward, come and join the Little Bites Facebook Group.
“He would rather go hungry than eat something new”.
That’s totally normal in children with food aversions. The fear and anxiety around new food are stronger than their hunger. Leaving a child with extreme food aversions or anxieties around food to “eat it or starve” or force-feeding strengthens their belief that trying new food is a stressful time. Children need positive experiences with food to be able to willingly try next time they’re offered something. Here are some more tips on how to do it!
“She lives on cookies and chips… I’m embarrassed about how limited her diet is”
I have seen it all, if you weren’t concerned about it you wouldn’t be contacting me. You’re here to make improvements and that’s all that matters. I can support you through the different steps they need to take to expand their diet, introduce new food and food groups to their daily diet.
“My older kids eat everything – the family has a very healthy diet”
A lot of people still believe that kids with self-restricted diets are just being “fussy”, that they must be choosing to eat certain unhealthy food. It’s a common belief that it may even be the way they’ve been brought up. This is NOT how it works with challenging eaters! The challenging eaters I work with have food aversions which means they have actually developed a fear or extreme anxiety around food, trying a new food or certain textures. The best way to overcome this is to go SLOWLY! The more you put on pressure, the more they will resist. There’s nothing that puts a child off trying new food than being pushed too fast.
“His siblings are starting to copy his eating behaviours”
Little Bites can work with you, not only for your challenging eater but also for their siblings. We can get their eating back on track before their eating becomes as extreme as your challenging eater’s. Check out these tips and book a free initial consultation to get you started.
“We’ve kind of given up offering any new food, it never gets eaten.”
It can be so frustrating when progress is slow, but progress is progress. When you start to feel like it’s not fast enough, have a look at an old food diary – then look at what your child eats now. Do they eat a piece of fruit and 3 peas a day more? That’s 7 pieces of fruit and 21 peas more a week than they had before! It all adds up and makes for a healthier diet long-term.
You are setting up healthy habits and getting your challenging eater to learn to overcome their food aversions and anxiety around food. It’s OK to take a short break but don’t give up! Once they’re eating a little bit you can bump up the amount each week to really build up their health and nutrition. Each new food they try helps them realise that trying new food isn’t that bad. Every time you offer something you move slightly closer to a healthy, varied diet. When you stop for a while that can impact their eating and willingness to try new food. You do not want to start over because you had too long a break too soon!
Almost all toddlers and kids go through a picky eating stage, while most grow out of it themselves, a quarter of them need support to learn how to enjoy trying new food and introducing a wider variety of food. Parents often ask “will they grow out of fussy eating?”
The parents of older challenging eaters often say to me “they want to be able to eat what their friends do” and “they’d love to be able to go to their friends’ houses for sleepovers but they can’t because of the food”. Sometimes this can happen about age 5 or 6, sometimes it can be much older, I have clients aged up to preteens who feel this way but who just don’t know to overcome their food aversions. Little Bites is here to give you strategies for challenging eaters of all ages, abilities and needs.
Little Bites works with all ages of challenging eaters to help them to overcome food aversions, from those who are just dropping foods and food groups, to those desperate to be able to eat the same as their friends. With older challenging eaters it can be really difficult to break the habits and the food aversions without support from a professional, and when they drop those foods you rely on it can become very stressful. There can be many reasons that kids stop eating the food they’ve always eaten, you can check those out here.
Tips for older challenging eaters
Ask them what food they’d like to be able to eat and reasons. That way you can try those foods and give motivation.
Go slow. Too much pressure and stress will make your challenging eater less likely to give it a go. I know it’s really hard when you feel that stress over their diet, nutrition and all the guilt that parents feel about not being able to help their child.
Get them involved in meal planning, shopping and exploring the fruit and vegetable aisles when you go shopping.
Get them helping to prepare the food. It will help them get to know the smells, textures and is a great first step.
Always give them opportunities to try new food, never say “they won’t like that”, they pick up on this and assume they won’t. This Mum is a perfect example of turning her 11 year old son’s diet around.
If you want a free initial consultation to see how Little Bites can help your challenging eater to overcome their food aversions you can book here.
We’ve all heard that food for 1 is just for fun… but what if it’s always a battle instead? Dropped (or thrown) food, mess, refusal to eat – and everyone else’s child seems to be happily eating everything in sight! What if they still don’t eat at 1.. or 2… or 3… When an ASD sensory processing disorder diagnosis comes it either bowls you over or everything clicks into place – it explains so much about the WHY, but you still don’t have the information you need on HOW to get your child to eat anything nutritious!
When you have a toddler refusing to eat it’s time to take a deep breath and give control back to your child. Yes, we hate mess but exploring food is an important developmental phase for little ones. In younger children it’s the result of learning to control and coordinate food and then in older toddlers it’s for cause and effect – there is so much to explore when it comes to food (whether it’s the noise it makes or the textures… or making Mummy scream “noooooo!” as she tries to catch a falling bowl of spaghetti). Believe it or not, when toddlers play with their food it can help them to become better eaters!
Luckily there are things we can do to make meal times easier, ways to get your child to eat.
Give them their independence. Small people love being independent, taking that away can make them anxious. Let them feed themselves and they can explore their food and develop more confidence with food.
Take a step back. If you’re anxious the chance of your child picking that up is very high – even if you think you’re hiding it well. If your child sees your anxiety they’re going to think meal time is stressful and won’t be as receptive to new food. You need toddler cutlery with a choke guard if that’s something that worries you. With a choke guard, you don’t have to worry about how far in the fork goes.
Get appropriate utensils. If your child can’t hold their fork it’s going to fall and that’s going to make a mess. You want utensils to have a short, ergonomic handle that helps with motor skills and is easier to hold for babies, toddlers and those who need to strengthen their fine motor control. Grabease has a cutlery set recommended by occupational therapists as the handles actually strengthen the finger muscles that your child needs for drawing, writing and holding their toys making life easier as they meet other developmental milestones.
Give small portions and top up if they need more. Your child’s tummy is tiny and maybe that huge pile of food is really intimidating and offputting straight away! Your child might need their food to not touch each other to start. Get in touch with Little Bites for a free initial consultation and I can help you find out the first step for your child to make dinner time a stress-free and fun family time.
Involve them in cooking and baking, get the to hand you the carrot, push the chopped veggies into the pan or salad bowl. These are little steps that will start to make your child more comfortable around different food groups.
Be consistent. Giving a piece of toast because your child didn’t touch their nutritious dinner teaches them that there are other options without even trying. Follow your Little Bites strategies and have the same rules every day. Children, especially those with an Autism diagnosis, thrive on routine, knowing your expectations and having boundaries. It’s much easier for them to know what’s happening next and what’s going to happen if they try to push those boundaries.
One thing to think about when overcoming eating aversions is where does your child have the most success? This will be your starting point to get your child eating.
Is it where it is quiet or where there are a lot of distractions?
A lot of kids need to have time to process what’s happening and distractions can be off-putting… but, because every child is different, for others a distraction helps them avoid overthinking it and stops the fear and anxiety building up.
Is it at school or daycare or at home? A lot of kids eat better at daycare, they eat at least some of what everyone else is. They want to be the same as their friends, they see it’s not scary. But nothing works for all children, some eat better at home and eat hardly anything while at school, in restaurants or on holiday! Look for patterns to find when and where your challenging eater feels most comfortable eating, that will be the best situation to expand their diet and get your child eating. A food diary can be an amazing tool to help you find patterns in your child’s routine and diet that you never realised before!! Get in touch if you’d like a free initial consultation about your challenging eater.
What textures do they have the most success with?
Food diaries are amazing at helping you see these patterns too. If your child prefers crunchy food like crackers offer crunchy textures of the food groups they’re missing out. Little Bites helps with recognising the textural and taste preferences and then identifying healthy nutritionally varied food that they will feel more comfortable starting with.
What time are they more happy to eat?
If they’re not a morning person a brand new breakfast probably isn’t the way to go, if they don’t eat anything at school, don’t expect them to suddenly start eating a food they’ve always turned their nose up at and if they’re over their day by dinner time that’s probably not going to work for you. I offer strategies that start as an activity and work with you to find the sweet spot in your day to carry it out.
Get in touch for your free consultation to discuss how Little Bites can help your challenging eater and get rid of that dinner-time stress. Little Bites can help you get your child eating more variety with less pressure and stress!
When kids don’t eat their lunch at school or daycare it can be very stressful and frustrating for the parents. You’re not there with them so there’s nothing you can do about their eating habits!
There are 2 extremes that people often speak to me about.
The overhelpful kindy/daycare
These are the very strict teachers who force the child to eat everything in their lunchbox before they can leave the table. Although they have good intentions, this often causes a lot of stress for the child left sitting by themselves and actually makes them more reluctant to try that food again.
Make sure the teachers know your routine and strategies and are happy to go along with that.
Don’t give them too much choice or too much food. They will feel happier if you give them less food that they can realistically finish. Build up the amount once they’re in the habit of eating the food in their lunchbox.
Don’t give them something new that they will struggle to taste, far less eat. If you book a consultation we can find the best time in your day to try new food in a stress-free, relaxed environment.
School and daycares are very busy places. Kids finish eating and rush off to play, so yours does too – whether or not they’ve eaten much lunch.
Encourage your child to help you choose some lunch food (from choice you give them). Give them small amounts so they get in the habit of eating a few foods in there then start to bulk up the amount.
There are so many other things to take into account so if you would like some more details or you would like to find out what Little Bites could do for your child book a free consultation or send me an email to [email protected]
Food to try for slow eaters or those not interested in eating lots
Remember that for challenging eaters, something is better than nothing and trying new food will be most successful at home, then can be put into lunchboxes.
Sweet veggie muffins
Scrolls (vegemite, cheese, pizza with amazing disappearing spinach pizza sauce)
Protein – cheese, meat – cold chicken, ham, cold sausage/sausage roll
Yoghurt – can have fruit pieces/stewed fruit, oats etc on top
Banana or other more filling fruits
Dips like hummus, guacamole or sour cream for rice cakes or veggies
Eggs in various form
Homemade muesli bars
Pasta with a sauce, meatballs, pesto, even with shredded chicken and cream cheese stirred together
nuts/seeds/trail mix/peanut butter (depending on the allergy rules at your school)
Salmon (my kids favourite) or tuna
Things to avoid overloading on
Food that will give them a little sugar rush then make them crash just in time to try to learn should be minimised. Nutritionally empty foods won’t give them what they need to get through the day and you’ll end up with the healthier food left in the lunchbox and a HANGRY child at pickup or dinnertime.
Some carbs are important in our diet but if your child just has carbs, salt and sugar at lunch they’ll suffer later on in the day. When giving them less nutritious food in their lunch box, give smaller amounts or they’ll fill up on this and ignore the slow release energy foods that are important for learning.
There are different reasons why you hear those 3 little words you dread “I’m not hungry”. A few people have asked recently what to feed their child who is never hungry to keep them healthy and growing. Sometimes it’s tempting to give them all the chippies and biscuits they want when they do ask for food but we really need to get some nutrition into them when we get the chance.
Some medications cause loss of appetite. For these kids, we need to work on high (good) fat food to get in all the nutrition and keep them growing. With a challenging eater, this can be tricky! Have a look at my list at the bottom of the page of some great foods to feed your child who’s “not hungry”.
If you don’t know why your child is never hungry, there are a couple things to check.
Take a food diary for a week
Snacking can be a sneaky cause for loss of appetite. Sometimes kids can eat way more than we realise through snacking, especially when they help themselves – and usually they don’t choose the food we’d like them to. If they are constantly grazing but never hungry for dinner this is something to check out.
Even if they aren’t snacking a lot, maybe they’re snacking too close to meals.
Do they have a Magnesium deficiency?
If your child is never hungry and doesn’t even snack, they could have a Magnesium deficiency which can cause loss of appetite. If your child is never hungry this could be something to check.
Alternatively it could be that they’re used to eating small portions through the day as that’s what their body has got used to.
Food to help them gain/maintain weight
Try to replace refined sugar and nutritionless snacks with cubes of cheese, slices of banana and apple slices with peanut butter on.
Use full-fat milk with their cereal and to drink.
Greek yoghurt is full of good fats. Get the unsweetened one and add your own frozen berries, apple chunks, stewed fruits or honey, sprinkle oats or seed on top… (or buy the flavoured ones but they obviously have more sugar)
Porridge: protein, calcium, magnesium… there’s so much in it that’s great for you!
Smoothies: put in oats, banana, greek yoghurt and maybe some veggies too?
Banana pancakes: 1 mashed banana, 1 whisked egg: mix them together then fry