I don’t know about other parents but the one area of motherhood which causes me the most stress is food! Regular readers of my blog will know that I have always had problems with Little Bean’s eating habits. For those of you who have just started following Mummy Matters, I began weaning Little Bean at 6 months (because that’s what I was told to do!) but from the get go it was not good. She had been showing all the signs of interest in food but I tried baby rice, porridge, banana, rusks – you name it I tried it and she refused pretty much everything. Jump forward 3 years and we’re still having food battles.
I was recently sent the very interesting results of research carried out by SMA Nutrition on toddler’s eating habits. This is what they found:
- 92% of UK parents feel they are not confident they know what their children’s meals should consist of for a healthy balanced diet
- 39% admit they don’t feel their child has a healthy balanced diet and are receiving all the nutrients they require
The research has also highlighted that only 11% of UK toddlers achieve their recommended daily amount of vitamins and minerals to help their growth and development. The two key nutrients which toddlers are missing out on are Iron and Vitamin D.
In a bid to help parents understand their children’s eating habits, SMA nutrition have recognised four different typologies of toddler eating habits:
- Foodie Fan – 47% of UK parents feel their child is adventurous when it comes to new foods. They are happy to explore new tastes and have a fairly sophisticated palate for their age.
- Contrary Kid – 33% say they can’t keep up with their child’s eating habits, one week they like something the next they don’t and vice versa.
- Stubborn Stompers – 9% of parents are (not-so) blessed to have the headstrong toddlers who ‘know’ exactly what foods they like or don’t like before they have even tasted them!
- Mini Muncher – 8% say their little tiddler will do all they can to avoid eating at the table and choose instead to munch their way through the day on snacks.
Looking at these typologies I would immediately put Little Bean into the Stubborn Stompers/Mini Munchers category as she ‘knows’ she doesn’t like something even before she tries it (bit like her Mummy used to be *ahem*) and although she will sit at the table, she is much happier just grazing through the day rather than actually eating a whole meal (rather like I am now *ahem*).
So how do we work with our Foodie Fans and our Stubborn Stompers? SMA Nutritionist Anne Sidnell and Eileen Hayes, Parenting and Behaviour Expert give these nuggets of advice . . .
Anne Sidnell says: “Foodie fans eat a whole range of different foods – even foods usually not liked by children and hopefully will continue to be open to trying new foods as they get older. The more variety in a child’s diet, the more likely they are to get all the nutrients they need”.
Eileen Hayes says: “Count your lucky stars if you have this kind of child. You are the envy of all the other parents!”
Anne Sidnell says: “Don’t worry if it seems that their diet is limited for a period of time. Try to have a selection of foods available for meals and snacks especially foods they will always accept, such as their favourite breakfast cereal, plain pasta or bread, keep offering a variety of food, and your child will gradually expand the list of foods they like.”
Eileen Hayes says: “Provided your child is eating a balanced diet, there is no need to worry too much about specific likes and dislikes. Just like adults, toddlers may have certain preferences. It doesn’t matter if they never eat green beans, but like broccoli, or dislike apple but enjoy pears.”
Anne Sidnell says: “The best thing for parents to do is to go along with the toddlers preferences for the short term. If the range of foods that the toddler likes is large, then there won’t be any problem making a varied diet from the ‘acceptable’ list. The difficulty comes when the toddler only eats a small number of foods and none of them are fruit and vegetables. Amazingly toddlers do thrive on some limited diets, and forcing a child to eat a food they really dislike is not going to help matters. Do your best to offer healthy foods in a relaxed environment and as the child sees mum and dad enjoying a wide range of foods, they will gradually open up to trying new things.”
Eileen Hayes says: “It is important to keep calm yourself when your child throws a food-related tantrum. Keep offering new and healthy food choices, but remember it can take many times doing this before a toddler accepts the new food.”
Anne Sidnell says: “Your child will gradually learn to fit in with normal meal times, but in the meantime provide them with small meals at frequent intervals; healthy snacks such as mini sandwiches with meat, fish, egg or cheese fillings, dips (i.e. houmous or guacamole) and vegetable or bread dippers, as well as fruit with yogurt, or fruit smoothies.”
Eileen Hayes says: “Whenever possible, try to eat with your toddler at the table, so they get the idea that it is normal and get used to meals being a family occasion. You can then cut down on the size of in-between meal snacks so your child is hungrier when it comes round to mealtimes.”
The one common theme though, is that regardless of which typology their child fitted into, the worries of parents was universal. To give parents a helping hand, Eileen Hayes comments:
“Almost all parents know only too well that moment when a lovingly prepared meal is completely rejected by their toddler. It is important to realise that all children have certain preferences and it can take many times trying new foods before a toddler will accept it.’
These are Eileen’s Top Tips for a happy mealtime with your toddler:
- Don’t make a battle over food – try to be laid-back and let your child’s appetite control the amount they eat
- Offer a new food alongside some favourites – it can take more than 10 times trying a new food, before they get to like it
- Think about how the food looks – a smiley face pizza for example, and also about the texture. A child might enjoy a raw carrot, but not like them cooked
- Try to sit and eat with your child so it becomes an enjoyable family occasion, and they can learn from watching you eat
- As they get older let your child help prepare the meal as this can make them much more interested
What do you think to these findings? Which category does your child fit into and do you think the advice given will help you going forward?