Introducing food, whether first foods around six months, or getting in those vegetables to a determined toddler who has perfected the art of getting their way at the dinner table, can be a minefield of stress and frustration. Our in-house nutritional therapist and chef Alice Fotheringham, who specialises in feeding little ones – tells us her top tips for stress-free eating this festive holiday.
My first piece of advice if you have googled ‘stress free feeding’ is to please try to stop worrying about this, you can cause yourself untold stress from your child refusing to eat at meals, or clamping jaws shut at the sight of anything green, but you have got to try to take that pressure of yourself, I bet you anything they are probably actually having a good variety of different foods each week – try writing down what they’ve had over the week and see.
It is incredibly common for children to suddenly lose interest in a food, or only seem to be interested in pasta and cheese and anything else beige. Please stop worrying about this. Its about having patience and being persistent at offering new foods. Children around the age of one (but it can differ and sometimes come later), often lose interest in new foods and go for very simple foods or foods with fun textures like crunchy foods (aka crisps and crackers!) Sometimes it can simply be due to losing appetite due to growing less speedily than they have in the past few months where they gobbled everything in sight. But it is also thought to be a natural preservation tactic where new foods could have been poisonous. Here are my top tips on what to do if your child wails at the sight of a broccoli floret lovingly steamed and presented as a tree, or flatly refuses anything other than that yoghurt you’ve hidden at the back of fridge (how do they know it’s there!)
Try not to compare
Don’t compare with your neighbour/friend’s sister’s baby and what they are eating, or take to heart anyone’s unsolicited advice. Everyone seems to have an opinion on weaning and feeding your children, often meant with the best intent – but you know your kid best, and this leads me on to the next point.
Every baby is different
This is often said but I think we still can’t help saying, ‘oh your baby’s big/ small/ insert other less sensitive words about size here’, baby’s often grow in fits and bursts and sometimes they are smaller than this mythical average, and sometimes they store up those lovely rolls before growing at a rate of knots*. The same can be true for appetite, they often fluctuate wildly in interest in food – the best thing to do is respond to this. Remember milk is the most important source of nutrition in the first 12 months, so if they appear hungrier than normal, try giving more milk over solids, but if they are not interested in food, remember that their milk is still giving them their vital nutrients. If they are older than one year, children will very rarely starve themselves, so simply take the food away and try again another time. They may just not be hungry.
Responsive feeding is key
Babies and young children have often got a stronger sense of satiety, of when they are hungry and when they are not. We all know when they are hungry as they don’t keep quiet for long, but we often don’t recognise signs of fullness or lack of hunger, and can often just give them a snack to feed on mindlessly as entertainment, not as a source of nutrition. Turning their heads away, or refusing food are signs to watch out for.
Variety is key
It is so desponding to have food refused and can be so much easier to give them something you know they will like. But the more you do this the more your child will know to refuse new foods in order to get to the food they love. It is normal for them to turn up their nose at something new, but gentle encouragement to try just a bite is really important, they never know what they might actually like.
This can be so confusing as each child is different. At the start, it can literally be a few teaspoons (which they end up actually eating, the rest wolfed down by the family dog, or down your top), but from there on there are no set rules. It is better to give smaller portions which not only look less intimidating, but also means less waste. Little bowls of food that they can then go back for seconds, is a nice way to go. A little finger bowl of veg or salad at the beginning of a meal is also a great way to increase veg content while you prepare the rest of the meal, giving you a bit more time! Don’t cajole or stress about the amount.
Make life easy on yourself
You do not need to spend weekends batch cooking, unless you want to or enjoy it. However, I am a big fan of freezing leftovers, and also cooking extra portions of your vegetables in the evening, and giveng them that the next day (with a little dip or drizzled in olive oil or a bit of grated cheese). Quick foods that you can eat yourself are great and give you more time to do other things. If you want a sandwich or salad for lunch, just give them components of that. Eggs: whether scrambled, boiled or made into eggy bread frittatas or omelettes are a quick meal and a regular saviour in our house.
You do not have to make special meals for your little ones. They love spices and stronger flavours, just watch for the salt, but make that chilli con carne or curry (unless you love a blow the roof of your mouth off one – just add the stronger stuff in later). Keep the fiery chilli’s out until later, but all those lovely warming spices like paprika, cumin or turmeric are fantastic for little ones to explore.
Make snacks count
Snacking is a great opportunity to get something good in. Spread a source of protein on those rice cakes/ oatcakes – a nut butter, cream cheese or hummus. Keep cut carrots in a Tupperware with water in the fridge for an emergency veggie snack, or take out individually wrapped cheeses and seeds with you – good for you on the go and your children!
*if you are worried about your baby’s size, do go and speak to your GP or health visitor.