Updated: Oct 18, 2021
My 3-year-old son is a nightmare to feed. Our nanny seems to be struggling as well. What can my wife and I do about this?
Uncle Indie says:
This is a classic ‘faddy eating’ issue. In the absence of any medical/physical cause like autism, almost all faddy eating in developmentally appropriate preschool children is behavioural.
In my 30 years’ experience, I have never come across a preschool or primary school child requiring hospital admission due to faddy eating issues; so, the first thing to do is to not get too worried and worked up. This rarely causes any serious nutritional, medical or growth problems, and is a phase that most children grow out of.
There are some golden rules, however, for parents and nannies to work together in successfully managing this behaviour and expediting their transition:
They should be firm and consistent in their messaging to the child,
They should give the child clear and brief instructions, with some limited but not too much choice,
They should focus on, and reinforce, the desired behaviour and ignore the undesired behaviour, and
Most importantly, the nanny and parents should work together, communicate openly, and share their experience with each other frequently.
With respect to your child, I'd like to offer some practical tips, for you and your nanny, to help improve their eating habits:
Keep it simple: please do not slog, or shed blood, tears and sweat preparing elaborate dishes. You’re setting yourself and your child up for failure. Instead, before starting meal preparation, you can give your child the option of choosing from two, or perhaps three options that they may want to eat that day.
Create the right environment: no TVs, iPads or other devices and distractions. At the start of the meal, you can place a small amount of the food you would like your child to have. Give them lots of encouragement to get them to try.
Do not indulge: refrain from buying high-calorie supplement food or drinks as they will suppress your child’s appetite, further worsening their eating habits.
Make it a social event: even if your child is not eating the family meal as yet, sit them at the dinner table on a high chair to participate in the family meal.
Encourage experimentation: when your child starts showing interest in the food, allow them to play with the food; even if the highchair tray and floor become a mess.
Remain calm: give your child a clear message that no matter what the child does, tantrums and otherwise, it is not going to affect you and your decisions.
Give some tough love: whilst reinforcing positive eating behaviour, you need to give a clear message to your child that they cannot scream or cry their way out of it. They need to be told in no uncertain terms that that’s all they will be getting at that meal. If they refuse to eat it, tough luck!
Be patient: your child’s behaviour is likely to get worse before it gets better. Do not give up too soon; the longer your child has been a faddy eater, the longer it is likely to take to resolve.
Mix it up a bit: If you introduce a new item/technique and it doesn’t work for your child, stop for a couple of weeks only and try again. Don’t wait too long or give up too soon. Stick with the programme.
If it still does not work for you, or if you tried something else and it worked for you, please let us know by writing to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.