Feeding Fussy Toddlers – Family Style
You mean I have to feed them again?
This thought goes through my head just about every single night when it comes to feeding my fussy toddlers. Every night except Friday, when Mr McD makes them fish and chips, and I get a night off from the kitchen.
My two are really fussy eaters – it makes me want to tear my hair out. Little Miss is the worst culprit but the Stuntman is learning from her and starting to reject a lot of foods he used to eat now too. It is sooo effing frustrating to spend hours (or even 20 minutes!) over a hot stove, only to have the food you’ve lovingly prepared and nutritionally balanced thrown at your feet. Or in your face.
I don’t know where it all went so wrong. We did Baby Led Weaning with Little Miss, and she took to it beautifully – she was eating lamb cutlets, steak, broccoli, stir fries, Bolognese, fried rice and all sorts of things by seven or eight months of age.
Then, all of a sudden, at about 16 or 17 months old, she just started refusing all of the foods that she used to eat, and eating only plain foods, like pasta (no sauce!), plain rice, plain chicken, bread, and dairy products like cheese, yoghurt and milk.
Things haven’t improved much over the last two years, and now, at 3.5 she’s still favouring ‘white foods’, and flat out refusing to try anything new. She’ll sometimes eat carrots (only raw), might have a bite of some corn on the cob, but no other veg will willingly pass her lips. She won’t even eat potatoes! Unless they’re chips of course… Luckily she’ll still drink a smoothie if I make one, so I’ve been using my Nutribullet to make her a green smoothie (with baby spinach, cucumber, celery, broccoli, apple and banana) and adding a bit of raw beetroot to make it pink. So at least she’s getting some nutrients! And she does eat some fruit, so there’s that.
She doesn’t eat any red meat, apart from chewing on a lamb cutlet once in a blue moon, and she won’t eat anything that’s ‘cooked together’ (like Bolognese or stir fries). She doesn’t like sausages, won’t eat meatballs, steak, stewed meat, roast meat, even meat that I’ve done in the slow cooker so it’s beautiful and tender. No interest. She won’t even try it.
I’ve tried lots of different strategies – ignoring her behaviour, serving the same thing every night, serving something totally different every night, tasting plates, eating outside, turning her food into works of art, allowing constant grazing, cutting out all snacking, bribery, cajoling, begging, you name it… nothing’s working. Over the last year or so I’ve pretty much given up and just started serving dinners that I know they’ll eat.
Healthy Little Eaters
In my quest for an answer, I stumbled across a great blog called Healthy Little Eaters, which is run by a dietician, Adina Pearson, and is full of great info about how to raise, well, healthy little eaters. Adina has teamed up with another dietician, Natalia Stasenko, who runs Tribeca Nutrition, to deliver a series of online courses through Feeding Bytes.
The main recommendation of the Feeding Bytes course is to implement Family Style Service, where, rather than serving up a complete plate of food for each person, all of the components of the meal are placed in dishes on the table, and each person can serve themselves whichever part they are interested in.
You can read about their approach to Family Style Service here.
Adina and Natalia’s advice is based on the work of Ellyn Satter, and the Division of Responsibility (DOR) theory, which boils down to the following:
It is MY job to feed them.
It is THEIR job to eat.
Family Style Dinners
We experimented with Family Style Service for our dinners last week, after completing the Feeding Bytes online course (5 Day Toddler Feeding Bootcamp). While I can’t say anything miraculous like Little Miss starting to eat vegetables occurred, I definitely felt less stressed about the whole situation, and it made dinner time quite fun.
One of the core ideas is to serve up a usual dinner meal, but kind of deconstruct it so that there are lots of different things to try, including a couple of dishes that you know your kids will eat. Tell the kids they can have whatever they want from the table, and don’t pressure them to try anything in particular. If they eat lots of one thing, and none of another, it doesn’t matter. You’re trying to teach them to listen to their own appetites, feel in control, and think of dinner time as a fun, no-pressure zone.
Telling your kids “you don’t have to eat” is liberating for both of you!
One night last week we had tacos, so I served up soft tacos on one plate, some mince (with lots of hidden veg) in a big bowl, another bowl of plain rice, a plate of chopped tomatoes, lettuce and cheese, and some separate chilli and hot sauce for Mr McD and I.
The Stuntman had a bowl of the meat mixed in with some rice, chucked the salad stuff on the floor, and then dipped his soft taco into the meat mixture. Little Miss served herself some rice, some cheese and a soft taco, flat out refused the meat and salad, but went back for a second taco and some more cheese.
Another night we had spaghetti Bolognese, and I served the meat sauce in one bowl, pasta in another, and a bowl of steamed veg separately. Little Miss just had plain pasta that night.
So, she wasn’t eating any better than last week, but I was far less stressed about it, we all had more fun, and I can definitely see how this could work in the long term.
Prior to last week I’d been feeding the kids around 5:30pm, then Mr McD and I would eat after they’d gone to bed – which sometimes was after 9pm. We’d trialled family dinners before with distrastrous results, so having a solid week of enjoyable meals was a big plus.
Pros & Cons
After just a week of Family Style dinners, I’ve found the following pros and cons.
- I only cook once a night
- Dinner is a raucous but fun affair
- Eating earlier is much better for our digestion (no more bedtime heartburn)
- The Stuntman is definitely enjoying us all eating together, and has tried new things and been quite experimental
- After we’ve had dinner, bathed the kids and wrestled them into bed, Mr McD and I have two or three blissful hours to ourselves before we collapse into bed (more time for blogging!)
- Both kids are enjoying the novelty of serving themselves – I bought a whole bunch of colourful mini tongs and spoons from Aldi which they’re loving playing with.
- I need to be a lot more organised to plan family meals that can be served up Family Style
- It’s messy – 3 year olds aren’t great at self-service!
- There seems to be a lot of food wasted
- It’s quite difficult to break the habit of saying “just one bite”, or “try this, you’ll like it”
- There’s a lot more washing up due to all the serving bowls and plates
- Mr McD are missing our hot curries and ‘normal’ dinners with lots of spices and flavour.
As I get better at planning out suitable meals, I think this is going to get easier. So far the pros outweigh the cons so we’ll stick with it.
If you need help feeding fussy toddlers, or for more information about the Family Style Service concept, the Division of Responsibility, or the 5 Day Toddler Feeding Bootcamp, check out Adina’s Healthy Little Eaters blog or Facebook page or Natalia’s Tribeca Nutrition website.
What about you – do you have successful family dinners at your place? What’s your secret??
N.B. This is not a sponsored post, I just found the info really useful.