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Fussy eater: should I just give him what I know he'll eat or keep offering variety?

(27 Posts)
CoffeeChocolateWine Tue 15-Oct-13 18:33:23

DS is 5 and apart from maybe his first year on proper food, he's been really fussy. We probably hit a low point about 18 months ago when I had a battle with him every single meal time just to get a few mouthfuls inside him. I was tearing my hair out.

But I persevered and for the past year I've been on a massive mission to cook all different types of food in the hope that we'd get him more enthusiastic about food and find a few things he likes. It's kind of paying off...he's still not nearly the variety I'd like him to be eating but I reckon I have about 10 meals ( most of which are various pasta dishes!) that I know with a bit of persuasion he'll eat.

But there's still stuff that I think he should be eating and enjoying...like risottos and mild curries ad fritatas that he won't touch.

I'm just wondering where to go from here. Some friends are telling me that I should be pleased that I've got quite a few meals now that he will eat and I should stick to them. But if I just stick to them I feel like I'm limiting him...and my DD (15 months). If you were me would you carry on cooking curries, risottos, frittatas etc knpwing that they'll be rejected but in the hope that one day he might change his mind about them? Or would you just give him stuff you know he'd eat?

At the moment I'm still cooking loads of meals and still getting frustrated when they don't get eaten. I know I could make my life easier but it feels a bit like defeat!

JiltedJohnsJulie Tue 15-Oct-13 21:27:07

My dd is very fussy to so you have my sympathy. What happens if he rejects a meal?

Keep offering variety.
Offer what everybody else is eating, but include something you know he'll eat.
Serve, allow time to eat and remove without comment.
Do your damnedest to not get annoyed or frustrated.
This is NOT your fault.

My DS4 is now 3 1/2 and only just started nibbling on non-beige items. Huge sympathies.

JiltedJohnsJulie Tue 15-Oct-13 21:34:32

smile at the non-beige items. Took me years to get DH of those and onto regular food too.

grin

If I hadn't weaned 3 older children who eat pretty much everything, I'd really doubt myself a lot more. 'Tis soul destroying.
And of course DS4 is thriving and the picture of health with more energy than he knows what to do with hmm.
He is the only one of mine who I reasonably regularly give a multivitamin to. Just in case he'd develop scurvy or summat...

JiltedJohnsJulie Tue 15-Oct-13 21:46:28

I find myself lobbing a vitamin at dd for the same reason, and DH too when I remember. Know that getting them to eat normal family meals can be done, after all I managed it with DH before we even had DC and his mum had been trying for years grin

sharond101 Tue 15-Oct-13 22:21:41

Can you offer the rejected things in a different way? Maybe fritatta at a teddy bears picnic? Or curry meat in a tortilla wrap? Maybe do an around the world theme with decorations and try out dishes from other countries. I'd try not to make your DS the focus though, make it more for the family and have a small portion of something he likes or him to eat but offer up some of the more interesting things too.

CoffeeChocolateWine Tue 15-Oct-13 22:36:35

What happens when he rejects a meal? Nothing terrible really. I mean, unless there are fishfingers on his plate, most meals are generally met with a big sigh and an "But I wanted fishfingers..." and I often have to coax him with "How about I help you with the first few mouthfuls?" And these are the meals I say that I can get him to eat "with a bit of persuasion"! But he's 5...I feel like I shouldn't have to spoon-feed him, even if it's just the first few mouthfuls!

With meals like risotto he might sit there for a while and pick out of few grains of rice. I generally try and ignore it as I'm helping DD. And eventually it ends with a "I tried it mummy but I didn't like it" (barely) and I let him go. I have to confess that sometimes after a bad day I might let out a "Why do I bother? You can have bread and butter tomorrow" and ban TV for the evening! But I do mainly stay calm, I promise!

I do feel like he's come leaps and bounds from 18 months ago but DH and I love our food and it's gauling when I put such a lot of thought and effort into his meals and they get rejected. And I feel like I don't give him anything that he wouldn't like. For instance, the risottos have a lot of the same 'toppings' as I use for the pasta that he eats. So maybe he doesn't like rice?? But then he eats egg-fried rice, so it drives me crazy that he says he doesn't like the risotto! And he eats scrambled eggs but not omlette!

wiltingfast Tue 15-Oct-13 22:51:33

Look he's 5, he doesn't actually have much of a clue about what he likes. He's just not familiar enough with what you are giving him so you just have to persevere. So I think it is important not to take his "I don't like it" too seriously.

Keep talking positively about the food, what it tastes like, looks like, feels like, why you like it, etc etc. Encourage him to eat a bit of everything. Make sure he's hungry when it comes too. I also sometimes bribe and say there's a biscuit for people who eat some dinner. I hold firm if no effort made and there's no biscuit.

And NEVER take it personally, his reaction has nothing to do with you!

JiltedJohnsJulie Tue 15-Oct-13 23:06:08

Its so hard isn't it. Both DH and I are greedy pigs like food, so this refusal to et is pretty up fathomable. Having said that I had really conservative tastes when I was younger and my dad just fed me biscuits if I didn't like dinner.

I'd keep offering the food, whether its his favourite or not and just ignore the protests. We've done this with dd and she is better. We do try to offer her something she will eat though, so if she had frittata, we might offer some salad with it which she strangely likes, odd child I know!

Lookslikerain Wed 16-Oct-13 08:47:41

Firstly, well done to you for increasing his list of approved meals! That's no easy task.

My DS is nearly 4 and went through an extremely fussy phase living mainly on fish fingers and porridge (he'd still live on porridge if I let him).

I took the tact that if he tried none of it, then he wasn't hungry and I offered nothing else. If he tried at least something on the plate then I'd offer some supper (usually porridge) before bed. He gets very grumpy when he's hungry so I always tried to make sure there was something there he'd eat. Even if it was just a pea or kernel of sweetcorn. Psychologically for me, it then didn't feel like a wasted meal as he'd at least eaten something. And I only put a small amount on the plate so not to overwhelm him and also to reduce the waste.

Eventually he started to expand the list of acceptable foods. I've no idea what changed and it might well not be related to my efforts. He's doesn't eat everything but we can actually all eat the same meal now.

And yes to keeping emotions out of it and not taking the food rejection personally. But I agree this is very hard to do sometimes! Good luck!

ChippingInNeedsSleepAndCoffee Wed 16-Oct-13 12:34:15

I don't really understand why you think it's necessary that he should like risotto, fritata, curries etc. Lots of children don't.

Also, scrambled eggs & omlettes have a very different texture.

I think you should make meals you know he has eaten 'ok' in the past with a bit of something new/different on the side. Tell him that at x o'clock it will be time to go and do y. At x o'clock take him and go and do y - do not mention how much he has or hasn't eaten. If he claims he is hungry later, tell him it's unfortuanately what happens when you don't eat your breakfast/lunch/dinner - then engage no further.

Stop making it a battle
Stop letting him get attention from it (good or bad)
Stop letting it wind you up

& stop treating him like a project where he should eat xyz. Give him nutritious food he has eaten in the past and stop thinking he should be eating xyz style food.

wishingforwillpower Wed 16-Oct-13 12:47:42

Last weeks three day nanny featured a wee boy who would only eat one meal - she seemed to do a good job of helping the mum increase the wee boys repertoire, might be worth watching on catch up?
In general though sounds like you've done a great job already! It's so disheartening and hard not to take it personally or panic that they will be hungry and end up offering alternatives thus reinforcing the food refusal!

hillyhilly Wed 16-Oct-13 12:56:55

You're doing well and it's so difficult, the only thing coming out of your post is that maybe there's a lot of variety and younger kids like familiar things? This could be why he rejects things he 'should' like. Why don't you pick a few of the meals you think he really would like if he'd only give them a chance and serve them regularly so he gets used to them and they're not new. I hope that helps, my other tip is that his leftovers can make a good lunch for you the next day so at least you're not feeling like you're wasting food?

HuevosRancheros Wed 16-Oct-13 13:04:37

I'm with Chipping.
Give him the things you know he likes, and maybe put something different on the side too, what you are eating maybe, so he can try it without the pressure of 'if you don't like it, you'll go hungry'. DD (5) loves a thai curry, but really didn't take to even a mild Indian curry.

My DH hates risotto! Doesn't like sloppy wet rice. He also hates sweet and savoury combos. And though he would eat a frittata, with ingredients he liked, he would never eat a boiled egg! But I don't spend my life trying to change him. I just accept that different people like different things.

So, I suppose what I am saying is, if you have a range of meals that he will eat that provides the nutrients he needs, stick with those and offer him tasters of other things with no pressure

And fwiw, if my 3 yo is going though a fussy phase, I do just let him have fish fingers. They're actually quite healthy! Though he doesn't get chips every time ;)

onefewernow Wed 16-Oct-13 17:28:21

I do agree with Pacific to serve, remove without comment etc. and don't offer alternatives.

And most of all, don't coax or persuade. Mid you coax, it becomes a psychological issue between parent and child. They know you care and therefore won't.

Worked with mine, anyway, all five of them eventually. Though youngest still tries it in!

onefewernow Wed 16-Oct-13 17:35:01

Also, maybe keep on serving something they have rejected. I think many kids especially when younger will only eat what they recognise.

I've persuaded them to get to know a food by ignoring and removing if unbeaten, and after a few tries they seemed to be willing.

Hope that helps, anyway.

Now they pretty much eat anything but always get excited about junk food!

IME there is a huge difference between a fussy phase and a fussy eater and it is quite difficult to not get drawn into the whole psychological battle of trying to get a reluctant child to eat.

DS4 was BF, weaned on my usual haphazard mix of purees and finger foods and did fine until he was just over 1 year old when he developed a rather horrendous infection of his mouth (he used to regularly bite his tongue and on this occasion it got terribly infected - think high temp, hospital and iv antibiotics) and following this just never touched anything not-milk or no-beige again.
His only fruit to date has been banana - other than if I offer almost any fruit in a puree hmm
He refuses all cooked vegetables - but has very recently started nibbling on a bit of cucumber or raw carrot grin
He will have processed meat - so Frankfurters or chicken nugget type crap
Refuses cheese other than cheese strings hmm.
V happy to have chocolate and crisps, natch...
He is the only one of mine I actively encourage to have fruit juices and smoothies several times a day.

Bear in mind this is in the presence of omnivore older brothers who regularly have competitions who is first to reach their "10 a day". There is always fruit and vegetable readily available, DS4 just Will Not Have It.

I know he is fine.
I know chances are he WILL grow out of it.
But I am glad the fussy eater was my 4th and not my 1st. I'd've despaired, really I would have.

So just keep going, OP.

hettienne Wed 16-Oct-13 17:49:04

I have a fussy 3 year old. Breakfast and lunch are things he will eat (bread/cereal, cheese, yoghurt, fruit, baked beans). Dinner is things DP and I like to eat!

We all sit down to dinner together, and stay at the table until me and DP have finished. If he wants to eat nothing then fine. Until he was 2.5ish he could have fruit or plain yoghurt for pudding regardless. Now he needs to try (one spoon/forkful) of everything on his plate to get pudding. Sometimes if it is a completely new or adventurous dinner he can have bread and butter instead.

CoffeeChocolateWine Wed 16-Oct-13 18:12:38

Thanks all for the responses and good advice.

I do see the logic of just sticking to things I know he'll eat with something new on the side, and if it was just DS I was catering for I might be more inclined, but my DD is 15 months and still at an age where she'll give anything a go. I guess I just feel like I'd be limiting her by catering for DS. And I refuse to start cooking two different meals for them.

And just a bit of context on the risotto/curry/frittata thing...I mention these because they are a few of DD's favourites rather than me being hell bent on getting him to like these things. It would just make my life a lot easier if they ate the same things. And it also seems logical to me he would like them based on other stuff he will eat.

I don't feel like I'm treating him as a "project" Chipping...my aim has just been to give him the opportunity to try lots of different foods so that I can find out what he likes the taste of. In the same way I give him opportunities to try lots of different activities to discover his passions.

I am pleased that he's now eating a lot more than 18 months ago and mealtimes are a calm affair (most of the time) and there are no battles. But I still feel that aside from pasta and fish fingers there's about 2 other things he'll eat. Which doesn't seem like much!

wishing, I will look that up, thank you.

hettienne Wed 16-Oct-13 18:29:00

I really don't think it is weird to assume a child will eat risotto/curry/frittata - they are not exactly un-child-friendly? DS's school dinners are things like beef curry, morrocan lamb and cous cous, fish pie, salmon risotto, chicken in black bean sauce and noodles - it's not nuggets and fish fingers every day and most children seem to eat fine.

If you feel you'd like to give the problem a 'label', look up "food neophobia" grin.

It made me feel (marginally) better that DS4's extreme food avoidance was not unheard of. And people far older than him seem to survive on rather limited diets....

CoffeeChocolateWine Wed 16-Oct-13 20:40:19

Hadn't realised I'd had more responses while composing my previous one!

IME there is a huge difference between a fussy phase and a fussy eater

Pacific, I totally agree with you here. DS is my first child and yes, I have been through phases of tearing my hair out. BUT I have NEVER EVER swayed from my belief that he will grow out of this. I think this is what keeps me going. I believe he has it in him to be a good eater and to enjoy his food. I believe this because I saw the baby he was when I was weaning him. He loved everything I gave him (including risottos, curries and frittatas!) and would be on the edge of his seat panting for each and every mouthful until it was gone and then he would cry because he loved it so much and wanted more (which I happily gave him!) I don't know what went wrong. There was never a turning point like you describe, Pacific. Maybe it's misplaced optimism or just plain hope, but I cling onto these memories EVERY DAY and it keeps me going and keeps me trying.

Onefewer, thanks for the tips as well. I NEVER offer him alternatives and when he's hungry later I still say no. But I'm definitely guilty of the coaxing and persuading. Tbh, it's all I've got...I just fear we would take a massive step backwards again if I don't but I know you are right and I know I have to stop. I do sometimes feel there is a psycological battle going on between us.

ChippingInNeedsSleepAndCoffee Thu 17-Oct-13 08:56:24

coffechocolatewine - Nothing 'went wrong'. The vast majority of children who 'loved everything' will go through this to a greater or lesser degree smile Of course he will change again.

As I said in my post earlier & others including onefewer have said - coaxing/persuading/getting emotional/rewarding are all making this much harder on you. It has become a battle, this has become a way of getting attention - the only way to stop that, is to stop engaging with him about it. Provide food <<< that is your job as his parent - eating it is his job, he will not starve. Be kind, give him food you know he has eaten (recently) & after that ignore. Do NOT make any comment even if he eats it all up or doesn't touch a bite. It's hard, but you need to do it.

I do see the logic of just sticking to things I know he'll eat with something new on the side, and if it was just DS I was catering for I might be more inclined, but my DD is 15 months and still at an age where she'll give anything a go. I guess I just feel like I'd be limiting her by catering for DS. And I refuse to start cooking two different meals for them

You don't have to cook two meals - you just have to put your thinking cap on & organise the way you cook a bit. DD doesn't have to miss out, but neither is she more important than DS simply because she's currently going through an 'easy' phase - given another year, this could easily be the other way around again!

Batch cook things either one of them likes - and serve that as the main/side. Even things like pasta dishes.

Cook things that can go in the oven together.

they are a few of DD's favourites rather than me being hell bent on getting him to like these things. . It would just make my life a lot easier if they ate the same things. And it also seems logical to me he would like them based on other stuff he will eat

Children, I swear, come with a 'designed to make life more difficult' setting... wink You might think it's 'logical' that he would like x if he likes y, but I think he's rejecting it for reasons you aren't looking at (beyond the control factor) ie Omlette/Scrambled egg - YOU are seeing three 'egg' dishes, he is seeing 3 completely different textures/appearances/flavours.

I don't feel like I'm treating him as a "project" Chipping...my aim has just been to give him the opportunity to try lots of different foods so that I can find out what he likes the taste of. In the same way I give him opportunities to try lots of different activities to discover his passions

Yes - but you are NOT accepting that he doesn't like the taste of many of those things right now. Opportunity to 'try' is one thing, getting upset/angry when he doesn't like them is quite another.

I am pleased that he's now eating a lot more than 18 months ago and mealtimes are a calm affair (most of the time) and there are no battles. But I still feel that aside from pasta and fish fingers there's about 2 other things he'll eat. Which doesn't seem like much!

LOTS of children have a quite limited range of things they like to eat - even those who previously liked a much wider variety - it's a stage and it will change again. In the meantime, try not to let it get to you and don't take it personally.

onefewernow Thu 17-Oct-13 12:39:42

Just remember CCW, no healthy child ever preferred to starve!

It was funny that when we had Romanian aupairs they had never even heard of fussy eating, and didn't think it possible!

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