Lessons from a little boy walking down the stairs!
Here’s a little story about a family I am working with at the moment to turn around their 2 ½-year-old son’s fussy eating.
One day, the dad got up to give their son breakfast while the mum had a bit of a lie-in. As she listened to them go downstairs, she heard her son ask chirpily “What’s for breakfast today, daddy?” – and she smiled to herself and thought “That’s progress!”.
Huh? you may be wondering: How did this one little question represent ‘progress’?
Let me explain. When I first started working with this family, this little boy was a porridge fiend! He wanted porridge for breakfast almost every day – and another a big bowl before bed too. Now there’s nothing wrong with porridge – it’s pretty darn healthy – but any food that a child insists on over and over again, instead of eating a wider and varied diet, is a problem.
The first thing to do was for them to take back control of what he was served at breakfast (and lunch and dinner of course – but this is a breakfast story!). The Golden Rule of cracking fussy eating is:
You’re in charge of what to serve.
They’re in charge of whether to eat it.
I advised they stopped asking him what he wanted for breakfast and started serving him three cereals (porridge plus two others) on rotation. We began by adding in two cereals that he used to eat and was familiar with but had stopped eating (in this case Weetabix and mini Shredded Wheat). If he said, “I don’t want this” or “I don’t like this” or “But I want porridge” (or complained in any way), they were simply to say calmly and gently (but assertively): “That’s what we’re having today” and “It’s up to you if you eat it.” No pressure (at all!) was put on him to actually eat the new cereals.
Initially, during the first week, he did protest when it wasn’t porridge, but when his mum or dad responded as above, he ate the cereal anyway. By the second week, he wasn’t protesting, just eating. The next week, we added another cereal (cornflakes) into the rotation, which he accepted and ate readily. One morning he actually asked for cornflakes – but didn’t complain or make a fuss when he was given Weetabix instead.
Fruit (a different one on different days) and pieces of toast/bagel/crumpet (again, a different one on different days) were also offered on a sharing plate in the middle of the table for him to help himself to if he wanted to – which he started to do, sometimes copying his mum and putting blueberries on top of his cereal.
And the next thing you know, out comes the chirpy “What’s for breakfast, daddy?” question – showing that he had completely accepted that his parents were in control of what was for breakfast AND that he was quite happy with that!
I know it can feel scary to take back control of what your serve. It’s natural to worry that if you don’t give your child what they want or what you know they’ll reliably eat, they won’t eat anything. But it is amazing how quickly children accept the situation.
Children actually like it when you’re firmly but kindly in charge. They like boundaries to be in place. It makes them feel secure. So whilst it may seem that your child enjoys you serving them exactly what they want like an eager-to-please chef catering to a very demanding and important customer (!), deep down, they do actually prefer it when it feels like you’re the one in control.
And in the fight against fussy eating, it is crucial that you are. Otherwise, it will be impossible to increase the variety of foods you are offering and giving them the opportunity to eat. The number of foods and meals they eat will spiral downwards – and their palate will become narrower and narrower.
Remember, they can’t eat a food that isn’t there! 😉
If you would like individualized, step-by-step advice and support to undo your child’s fussy eating, please visit my consultancy page.