Toddler tasting sour lemon

5 tips for reducing stress when feeding your fussy eater

Do you find feeding your child stressful? Are you searching for the answers to how to get your child to eat more food? It can be very difficult to feed a child who doesn’t want to eat the foods that you offer, but I have 5 top tips for reducing those stress levels and keeping you sane throughout the week!

Mother with Daughter Who Is Fussy Eater Sitting around Table at Home for Meal

So the first thing I want you to do is think about all the food your child eats across a week or more. When you do that, you get a much better overview of what they’re really eating, and that can help to reduce the stress at mealtimes.

Let’s imagine you are focussing on a single meal. If you feel that it has gone badly; maybe there’s not been any vegetables eaten, or they’ve eaten only a tiny amount, it’s easy to get really stressed in that moment. You are left thinking my child has only eaten potato, they aren’t getting the right nutrition. 

Now let’s switch that and think about their diet across the whole day or week. Instead of thinking my child only eats potato you can start to think this. Ok, they haven’t really eaten any vegetables tonight, but at lunchtime they had some cucumber sticks, and at breakfast time they had some banana. When you think about it across a week, it is much more likely that you’ll start to notice all of the foods that are eaten and this will help to reduce your stress levels. 

Diets are not about perfection and nutrition is not about getting everything in at every single meal. Your child might only eat meat a couple of days a week and still be getting enough protein. Or eating fruits or vegetables at only one meal and still getting enough Vitamin C. 

Pressure sounds like quite an extreme word. Really what we are talking about is any kind of encouragement you are giving your child to put food into their mouth. Stopping with pressure or encouraging your child to eat can feel really counterintuitive if you’re worried about your child being fussy. It can feel really uncomfortable, because parents often think: well, if I do that, they’re not gonna eat anything at all.

However, research shows us that the more we try and encourage and the more we pressure our children, the less they actually eat. So pulling back and focussing on other things such as connecting over a conversation is going to help your child to eat better.  

This isn’t just about science – I see this in action week after week with the hundreds of families I have worked with over the years. When we pull back from encouraging, children start to eat better (true story – I have been called a witch on more than one occasion for how I help kids to enjoy their food!!!). 

In the short term, how much your child eats may reduce, but if you trust in the process and know that that eating is going to go back up again we can hold our nerve and find mealtimes are a happier place without the constant nagging to eat. 

**disclaimer – this does go alongside other methods such as having a good structure in place, giving the right types of foods and ensuring that there is always something your child will eat offered. If you feel that your child is at risk of being underweight then it is good to speak to a healthcare professional about their eating habits. 

The third way to reduce stress levels around feeding is actually more focused on you. Now, what I want you to do before you serve a meal, if you can, is take a minute to take some time for yourself.

If you can, literally step into the bathroom, or any other room or even just behind a door – wherever you can really! Take a minute, close your eyes, and take some deep breaths. If your children are slightly older and you can get two minutes to listen to your favourite song or something else that brings you some quick joy. You’re aiming to do something that brings you calm. Even if you think you don’t need it.   

The purpose of this exercise is to calm and ground yourself. If you can reduce any feelings of stress you are carrying from your day, or from cooking the dinner you will go into that meal feeling better.  

When you sit down to eat, if your child complains, says they don’t want to eat, spills a drink, drops their food on the floor or does anything else that irritates you. it’s much less likely that you are going to have a full eruption if you’ve taken a little time to ground yourself beforehand.  

Think about it like this. If you’re at an 8 out of 10 after a long day and cooking dinner knowing it’s likely to be a disaster and a drink gets spilled on dinner you’re likely to ERUPT! 

If you ground yourself and get down to a 6 out of 10 and that drink gets spilled you are less likely to erupt. 

Meals do not have to be elaborate, super interesting or cooked from scratch every day. 

I am here to tell you that it is okay to serve quick, easy meals to your children. We are sold this notion that things need to be perfect. We’ve got to be super parents. They need to be pinterest or instagram worthy. They don’t. 

The reality is that it is impossible to do that all the time. Parents are time poor, we have jobs, kids have homework and clubs and we all need down time. I want you to know that when you are dealing with a fussy eater, creating positive mealtimes and positive associations with food is as important as the nutrition that is going in. 

If you serve up beans on toast or chicken nuggets and chips, and you are able to enjoy that with your child and sit around the dinner table, focus on togetherness and connection with your child, that is really important. So give yourself permission as it is actually a positive to serve those meals. You can get my download [link] here with my 10 easy meals which will give you some ideas. 

The final thing you can do to reduce your worries about feeding your fussy eater is to check your child’s growth.

The vast majority of families that I work with come to me and say, “I’m really worried that this is impacting my child’s growth, I’m worried that they’re underweight or that they are not going to be as tall as they could be.” For the vast majority of them, that is not the case. When I check growth charts they are growing fine and their eating is not impacting their development. 

So what I want you to do, if possible, is weigh and measure your child.

Either go to the GP or a Health Visitor or get advice from a Pediatric Dietitian like me. Or you can do it yourself by going online, checking the growth charts and looking at those against your red book (if you still have that). 

Doing this means you can check whether your child is still following the growth curve that they were previously and whether they are a healthy weight for their height. This will give you some reassurance that actually the food they are having is actually helping them to grow. 

If you need input from a Dietitian on a particular topic such as growth, food allergies, constipation, fussy eating, vegetarian or vegan diets, reflux or anything else feeding related please get in contact to find out how I can transform your child’s eating, improve symptoms that they are experiencing and reduce your stress levels around feeding. 

Hopefully these top 5 stress busters are helpful and help to bring you some peace at mealtimes. If you have found this useful please do let me know and if you have any questions you would like answered you can email me at hello@theearlyyearsdietitian.co.uk or send me a DM on Instagram. 

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