Recently a friend of mine frantically told me that her toddler is refusing to eat any food. I was able to empathise with her straight away because I experienced a similar situation when my 5-year-old was a toddler.
My baby started to hate food. She would cry at the sight of it.
She was 9 months old and people assumed she was only 4 or 5 months. She was born a good size but never had a huge appetite. I breastfed her from birth but when I started weaning, I discovered she was allergic to milk and egg. That’s the last thing I needed! Thinking about going back to work, I thought I could put her on formula milk, but that’s made from cow’s milk, so that was a definite no no!
Her diet was restricted and I had to learn to feed her on a diet without any dairy products. Her weight gain was so slow so I wanted her to eat lots, I didn’t realise that I was probably making meal times a really bad experience for her. She just didn’t want to eat. I was getting stressed and she knew it.
It got to the point where she wouldn’t even drink any water. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I cried to anyone who would listen. My daughter was now so petite that all I wanted to do is get some food in her. It wasn’t going to happen.
When I started weaning, I thought I would try baby-led weaning but I felt that was so slow and started feeding her myself. That’s probably where I went wrong. After getting plenty of expert advice, I decided to go back to basics. – I put her in her highchair, put the food in front of her and walked away… she was definitely confused, the look on her face said something along the lines of, “What is my mummy doing?”. She made a little fuss and I chose to ignore her. She looked at the food and to my surprise; she picked up the food and started to eat!!! Hooraaaaaaaaay!
From that day my baby began gaining weight, eating well, showing an interest in food, fed herself and looked forward to eating! And… I became a happy mummy.
These are the steps I took and they worked!
- Whenever my daughter ate a meal or a snack, she was strapped into her highchair.
- I also had a 4 year old daughter and I made sure the two of them eat together. She watched her big sister and they often shared their food! Make sure you sit your baby, toddlers and older children together to eat. It makes it a much more pleasant experience and they learn from each other.
- I gave my daughter finger foods, such as steamed vegetables, chicken strips etc.
- She would play little games when she ate her food, she liked to throw her food over the side of the chair and watch the cat eat it! So, I put the cat out the door when she eats and ignore her when she throws food over the side. She stopped doing it!
- Also – lots of praise when she picked up some food and put it in her mouth.
- She would also slap the tray when she had finished – identify when your child has finished and take away their plate/ tray. In the past I would try and get her to eat more, she would get upset and that made everything a hundred times worse.
- She didn’t like eating foods she had never tried before, so I now give her new foods with foods that are familiar to her. Soon enough she formed a liking for it. And I would always make sure she fed herself.
- I always offered her food, especially when I am eating something. Soon after she started to make her way over to me and ‘take a piece’. She would try it and if she liked it, she would reach out for more. Something I thought she would never do!
The best piece of advice I can give anyone who is going through the sort of things I went through with my daughter is, try to relax, try not to stress – I know it’s easier said than done but remember, this is about your child, not you. They will not starve, (hard to believe, I know!). I thought my daughter would wither away since she was hardly eating anything, but she hasn’t. Take a step back and look at your own behaviour and ask yourself these questions:
- Am I encouraging my child to behave the way they do?
- Am I pressuring my child to eat?
- Am I pushing food down my child’s throat?
- Do I try to get them to eat more than they can?
- Do I praise my child when they have eaten?
- Do I ignore any bad behaviour?
Sometimes, our child is not the problem, we are.
For anyone that reads this and has a child that does not want to eat – I wish you all the luck. Feel free to comment/ ask any questions and I promise to respond with any advice I can offer.
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