How I Got My Fussy Eater to Start Eating - A Work In Progress
Frank, my almost 4 year old, is a fussy eater, it’s all about the power struggle when it comes to food (and lots of other things, he is a stubborn little chap, but, to be fair, he did not lick that off a stone!). We did baby led weaning when he started on solids at 6 months and for a year and a half he ate absolutely everything, he was even having things I didn’t eat until well into my twenties. Sushi? Loved it. Romanesco? Yes please. Falafel? Get in my face now! Thankfully though I never got cocky about his early adventurous palate and always said to myself that toddlerhood may bring change and fussiness, and boy did it!! Everything green was out, in fact almost all food with colour was guaranteed to elicit a very emphatic “YUCKY!”, he even went through a phase of telling me to “put it in the bin” - you wouldn’t want to be sensitive. Only brown and beige foods needed apply.
The fussiness started around his second birthday and after about a year of it, the resulting stressful mealtimes and a slight worry that he was going to develop scurvy, I decided I needed to try and tackle it in a way that wouldn’t cause long term issues or food aversions. I was fed up of having a battle, though about half of the time I did apply the “you don’t have to eat it” mantra and managed to be fairly zen about it, but I am not made of steel and would get stressed or lose my temper sometimes too. Until I discovered Ellyn Satter. As someone in eating disorder recovery I follow a lot of non-diet approach dietitian social media accounts and I started to see Ellyn’s name come up over and over. She is the go-to person for advice on how to raise competent, healthy and balanced eaters without issues, moralising or guilt around food. I ordered her book Secrets of Feeding A Healthy Family and we haven’t looked back.
Satter advocates for an approach she calls the Division of Responsibility. Essentially the parent/guardian decides the what, when and where of feeding and the child decides how much and whether to eat of what is provided. It works on the principle that if you do your job of feeding then your child will do their job of eating! It sounds simple and, you know what, it really is. We now eat our meals “family style”, so instead of plating up in the kitchen I lay everything out in the centre of the table and we all serve ourselves, I always ensure to have something I know Frank will eat and some days he’ll only eat that thing and something from the fruit bowl (which is always on the table by the by and he knows he can help himself to whenever he likes). I trust him to eat as much or as little as he likes and some days he’ll be adventurous and take a piece of broccoli or a small serving of salad. It’s a slow process but it’s definitely working, as time passes he’s choosing for himself things I never thought he’d eat, he might only have a tiny nibble and decide he doesn’t like it but it’s a start and move away from outright refusing to even touch the food. Apparently as well, seeing us, his parents, eat a broad variety of food is important too, the old adage of “monkey see monkey do” applies here, again, with some kids it takes time but leading by example works with food and eating as with all other behaviours. Family style eating is also a really fun and sociable way to eat too, we absolutely love it and wouldn’t go back now at all.
If you have a fussy eater or even just have concerns and an interest in raising a family of good eaters who find joy in food and mealtimes I can’t recommend Satter’s books enough. You can also check out her website too: www.ellynsatterinstitute.org