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food refusal in toddler - HELP!

(12 Posts)
eeky Tue 31-May-11 15:16:22

Hello all, dh and I really need some help here. DD is just turned 3 years and is generally a happy and well-behaved little girl. However the one area that is becoming increasingly difficult is food.

She is tall for her age and very skinny (but healthy) and has always had a fairly poor appetite. Up to 18m or so she ate small amounts of everything, great variety. She became pretty picky at that stage, but no more than most toddlers. We have always tried to encourage trying a mouthful of everything and never tried to make her eat anything she dislikes, keeping it fairly low key. She generally eats a really good breakfast (Weetabix/cheerios/toast and a cup of milk). Lunch (hot meal at home or at nursery) is variable but we sit down for this at the table together and try to encourage some table manners! Tea is generally a bit more snacky, such as chesee, crackers and fruit and she tends to eat much more if she has this whilst playing or watching a dvd, etc. Cup of milk before bed is always loved. I've always felt she eats a fairly reasonable "good enough" diet and hoped the pickiness would ease as she got older.

Problems lately are:

We've realised we have, almost without thinking, reduced the number of things she is being offered, so as to reduce the amount of fuss - lunches are down to fishfingers, bolognese sauce, meatballs, sausages, baked beans or scrambled eggs for definite acceptance. Varies whether potato is ok in many forms. She refuses pasta or rice. Bread and butter generally ok. Visible veg always refused, but she will eat lots of hidden veg in bol sauce. Fruit used to be ok but the range accepted getting less and less - grapes, apple, pear sometimes banana, sometimes berries. She loves juice or smoothies, though.

Hence the fussiness is a self-fulfilling prophecy to some extent... the battles trying to get her to eat something new or even something familiar she doesn't want that day are horrendous.

Ds (20m) is the opposite; short and stocky, will eat anything given to him apart from being not so keen on lots of fruit or veg. We have tried praising him +++ for eating but that doesn't seem to have any effect on her.

We have tried: not commenting much, quietly encouraging her, praising her massively when a meal eaten, getting her involved in cooking and growing veg/fruit in the garden, time out or even early nap or bedtime when food absolutely refused. It is getting worse, not better.

Over the last week she has started to refuse breakfast or take an hour to eat it, and is demanding to be fed ("like ds"). Really bad behaviour over lunch and tea too. Refusing her normal favourites such as fromage frais.Dh has had the morning from hell with her resulting in her going to bed for her nap early. Another awful habit she occasionally has is taking a few mouthfuls under duress and not swallowing them - she will happily sit there for 20 mins refusing to swallow.

Our concerns are that if we "just ignore it" as lots of friends have advised, then she is so strong-willed she would quite happily refuse to eat for a couple of days - she really is so thin that I worry massively about her losing any more weight. Also it seems to me that she would be being given a message that to refuse or be picky is accceptable behaviour - when it isn't!

If we cajole/bribe she is getting masses of attention (which is what she wants, clearly) and it still could take an hour to get her to eat a small meal. We haven't got the time or the inclination for that, frankly. It doesn't seem quite right to me that she should be getting rounds of applause and whooping for doing something that we all do 3 times a day?

If we try the stern approach, threatening bed/no tv/no treats/not leaving table until a little eaten everyone gets upset, it doesn't always work (will either end in her wolfing the lot or refusing it all). We have all been in tears the last couple of days. She dislikes "formal" meals and would always eat more if you let her try bits and pieces whilst cooking or snack out of a bowl whilst doing something else.

At nusery 2 days a week, she will sometimes eat well and sometimes quite little, no particular pattern, but she is much better behaved at the table. She tends toward constipation and can go 2-3 days sometimes without a bowel motion - her appetite is usually better once she has "been", but at present this is ok and improved with smoothies, dried fruit etc.

Can anyone advise, especially if you have experienced similar? This is really affecting our daily life, especially with the worse behaviour over the last week or so. No particular reason for this - no changes in routine. She is such a happy girl generally and gets probably a lot more attention than ds because of this. Both had chickenpox but over a month ago now.

I always vowed our children would not be picky and want to nip this in the bud. I veer between being worried that she will be horrendously picky if we let this slide or tip her over into a longstanding eating disorder or complete refusal if we force the issue!

Please help sad!

2cats2many Tue 31-May-11 15:23:52

I have to say that this situation is only affecting your daily life, because you are making such a big deal of it.

Seriously. Your post is SO long. You are clearly getting way too wound up by this.

Your daughter's diet doesn't actually sound that bad, you know. I know loads of toddlers who give their parents a far worse time than that. Hers seems quite balanced.

My advice to you is to keep hiding the fruit and veg in sauces and smoothies, take the emotion and blackmail out of mealtimes, offer no snacks in between (so you can be sure she is really hungry at mealtimes) and just leave her alone for now.

You must know that your problem is about a battle of wills- not food.

eeky Tue 31-May-11 15:41:26

thanks, 2cats. I agree, I have just re-read my post and have been appalled at how stressed this has made us all! So, if she refuses to eat, just roll with it? This is entirely about toddler power, she has worked out this is is what riles me - it's not much to do with food or hunger.

Will give it a go - wish me luck smile

Mabelface Tue 31-May-11 15:46:14

Definitely roll with it. Feed her what she will eat, and offer small bits of other stuff on the side of her plate. Only give attention once food is eaten. Ignore faffing and give a certain amount of time. Once she starts messing, let her down from the table. She will eat more over a week than you will realise if you just look at day to day.

IslandMooCow Wed 01-Jun-11 19:26:38

This is only a nightmare because you have made it so. Put a balanced meal down on a table, introducing a couple of new things every week. Serve the same meal for everyone. Don't comment if she eats little, but praise if she tastes new things. If she leaves the table, leave the food available for 20min then put it in the bin.

Don't battle, don't force feed, and never insists she finshes a meal if she doesn't want to. All children this age have days when they are more hungry than others. Be happy about food, don't make the dining table a stress filled environment. If she occasionally wants spoon feeding then why not, she just fancies being like her little brother sometimes, she is only small herself.

Make mealtimes more fun, and don't worry so much. Only offer cream crackers and some fruit as possible snacks.

I have been there and this worked for me - and it's so easy! Good luck.

Kate1971 Mon 13-Jun-11 00:32:19

My son is nearly six and upto about 18mths old would pretty much eat anything (though not potatoes). Since 18mths old he has got steadily worse with his eating and now eats no veg (occasionly chips), no fruit apart from the odd banana though he will drink fruit juice, no meat apart from 'Billy Bear'. He lbasically lives on bread (incl versions of bread eg croissents, crumpets, crackers), cheese & shreddies. Even with his limited diet he is healthy as I have had him checked out with the Dr. I have learnt now not to sweat it as for years I have tried every method to get him to eat other foods with no luck and I used to get so upset & stressed. Now I no longer make an issue of it and he will from time to time try things - the problem I have is that he has made his mind up that he wont like something even before he's tasted it. I live in hope that one day he will get better so wish you good luck.

Parietal Mon 13-Jun-11 01:00:04

My 3 yr old has phases (a few weeks) of being v v fussy and conservative in what she eats. And then phases of being adventurous & asking of new things from my plate. Just go with it.

MooM00 Mon 13-Jun-11 10:27:28

My dc1 stopped feeding himself when I started spooning food down dc2. There are quite a few meals that you could let them eat with fingers as a treat,I put 'salad' (piece of tomato or cucumber or carrot) on their plates first so if they are waiting for me to serve up they can nibble if they want to and then let them eat things like fishcakes with their fingers.I think my dc have pretty awful table manners ( a lot of using fingers) but they do eat reasonably well.

whimsicalname Mon 13-Jun-11 14:52:07

I feel your pain OP. My boy was like that for ages. Eventually he grew out of it. We adopted all of your tactics in various ways and he just carried on doing what he wanted. Now he's super. I can't take any of the credit for it!

It's really tough going, but will get better (whether or not you make a big deal of it)

I can't believe the amount of energy I used to put into trying to get the little blighter to eat.

MrsMagnolia Mon 13-Jun-11 18:51:21

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

eeky Tue 21-Jun-11 07:00:47

Just to update all of you who gave me such good advice above...we gritted our teeth and made no comment if she refused food, just a low-key "well done" if she ate anything.

Within 2 days she was back to her previous fair amount of food, and since the stress level has gone down, she is now eating even more than before, and taking great delight in clearing her plate!

Many thanks, ladies grin

ppeatfruit Tue 21-Jun-11 11:12:46

I'm glad it's getting better, IMO 'well done' for eating is not nec. you wouldn't say it to yr DH would you? She is only showing her personality and asserting her independence. IME too much wheat can give constipation. Rye is a good alternative.

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