I was invited on to Louisa Hannan’s morning show on BBC Radio Oxford yesterday (always a really good listen by the way), to talk about a survey last week which highlighted toddler eating habits.
You can listen to our discussion by clicking on this audio player.
My heart always sinks when I see these reports published. They use such emotive phrases – “How to get your kids to eat properly”, “Is your child fussy” – and seem to miss out the most obvious point:
We are talking about toddlers here!
100% of toddlers I have ever met are fussy, full-stop – whether it is around food or in any other part of their lives. They are learning to exert their will, make their choices – and, of course, wind up their parents. I don’t understand the surprise expressed at the fact that young children can be picky around food. And then as soon as they are perceived to be picky, we label them as fussy.
People often ask me if Archie eats everything. He doesn’t. In fact, at the moment, getting a plate down on the table without a dismissive grunt can be a real challenge. It may be teething, he may be under the weather, he may just be being a fesity arse! But it seems completely normal to me.
We try not to get drawn into his dramatics. We won’t give him other options, we don’t play eating games, we don’t threaten him with losing something if he doesn’t eat up. In fact, we completely ignore it because we know that when he is really hungry, he will eat. And he really doesn’t look like he is undernourished or melting away.
Lou asked me on the show what can be done to encourage kids to eat. There is no doubt that engaging Archie in the whole process, from shop to table, really does help. A dish Archie has been involved in will invariably be more popular than one he has not helped with. We also do like to try to eat as a family, where logistically possible. And yes, we leave him in no doubt that vegetables are good for you, even though confusingly the survey said that 80% of parents thought it was a fib to tell your kids that vegetables make them grow up strong.
But beyond that, we don’t like to make an issue out of food. As I said on the show, food is just part of what “happens” in our house, it’s just something we “do”. We don’t try to turn it into an event in its own right. We don’t praise him if he has eaten “well” (but we do ask him if he enjoyed it) and we ignore it if he hasn’t eaten much at all.
I feel that the food only becomes a battle ground if we, his parents, let it become one. Of course it can be hard work, soul-destroyingly frustrating even, but I just remind myself that this is a toddler we are dealing with – and contrariness and independence are part of the terms and conditions…!
What do you think? Is it unfair to labels kids as fussy eaters? What works in your house? Do you generally serve your kids with the same food you eat? Do you ever lie to your kids to get them eating?