Final-year student Hannah reflects on her fussy eating and weaning masterclass
29 March 2021
This term, third-year students attended a masterclass led by nutritionist Annie Denny. The class explored the developmental stages of feeding, dos and don’ts during weaning, helping children develop a liking for healthier foods, supporting children with special educational needs and disabilities, and techniques for supporting children to become more adventurous eaters.
Hannah, head of students and student representative on Norland’s board of directors, reflects on the masterclass and how she has used her new understanding, along with the knowledge developed throughout her training and during placements, to provide tips on weaning and introducing new foods to children.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Hannah and I am head of students and a member of Set 42. I am originally from Berkshire and studied A levels in French, Psychology and Drama and Theatre before joining Norland.
My reflection on the masterclass with Annie Denny
During the masterclass with Annie Denny, we gained a great deal of knowledge and understanding of the underlying reasons behind fussy eating. We learnt about the importance of weaning in aiding a child to develop a positive relationship with food, both in the present and future. We were also able to understand and discuss strategies for supporting children who may not have had a successful weaning start, responding to fussy eating and encouraging more confident exploration of new foods, flavours and textures.
What did you take away from the masterclass?
The masterclass helped me to recognise the importance of weaning in introducing children to as many different foods, flavours and textures as possible. It also helped me to realise that even if a child doesn’t like a food the first time, it is important to keep trying and that it could take around 15 attempts before they are able to appreciate the flavour! It was also a reminder that, as adults, we don’t like every single food, flavour or texture and that we must be flexible with children. It’s important to remember that children go through different stages and phases of development and their preference for tastes may alter and change. And, critically, not to be disappointed if a child suddenly goes from eating everything to being very fussy, as this will be a phase. As long as you know that they have eaten a varied diet before, then it’s reassuring to remember that they will come back to this when the phase passes.
I’ve also appreciated the importance of eating with your charges, encouraging positive eating behaviours and manners, and allowing for imitation.
During weaning, it’s important for the child to have the freedom to explore their food and feed themselves as much as possible. By independently exploring its feel, texture and taste, they can become more comfortable and confident around such foods. This can be supported by the adult to ensure they are also eating some of the food (whilst inevitably making a bit of a mess)!
I have learnt how critical it is to be both patient and consistent when supporting children to develop their relationship with food, acknowledging that this process is not a race but will take time and effort. Children need clear boundaries and guidelines when it comes to eating, so it’s important to have a consistent approach and for everyone who cares for the child to work together. Taking different approaches, for example one parent saying that a child must try a new food once before leaving the table and the other saying they must have three bites before getting down, and then a nanny or another carer saying something else, will cause confusion. The child needs to know what is expected of them so that they know what they are aiming for at every mealtime, otherwise they will feel confused.
I was also reminded of the importance of treating every food as ‘equal’ and not favouring particular foods as ‘treats’ or ‘rewards’. By using food as a bribe, we risk a child developing an unhealthy relationship with that food and, in worst case scenarios, eating problems and disorders. By offering a child every type of food, in moderation, you are helping their taste buds to adjust and their bodies to process that particular food.
What are your top tips for introducing new foods?
My biggest tip for introducing new foods is to offer the new food alongside an already familiar food that the child likes. This will be less likely to overwhelm and panic the child as there is something that they recognise and enjoy on the plate in front of them. It is important that the parent or carer eats the ‘new’ food at the same time to encourage and reassure. It is also fundamental not to make a big fuss of the new food nor talk about it too much, but instead treat the mealtime as a time for conversation and discussion about other topics.
Timing is also fundamental. I recommend introducing new foods at either breakfast or lunch, when children are less likely to feel tired, overwhelmed or emotional. Introducing new foods at dinner time can be more difficult when children are tired from the day, have used up most of their energy and will not be able to process exploring a new food.
Similarly, it is important to ensure that mealtimes follow a regular routine. The child should be able to know when to expect food and to be hungry at every mealtime. By feeling hungry, the child will want to feed their tummies and, as such, will be more curious to try new foods. If a child is not coming to a mealtime hungry, I recommend reducing snacks given between meals.
How common is fussy eating?
Fussy eating is normal. Every individual goes through periods of time when they prefer certain foods to others. As children grow, learn and develop, their bodies are constantly changing along with their preferences, likes and dislikes. The key is to introduce them to new foods regularly, making a varied nutritional diet the ‘norm’ within your home. This will help the child to always anticipate new flavours, foods and textures and prevent them from falling into a routine of only eating particular foods in rotation. Furthermore, as an adult, it is important to always use positive language surrounding food in front of children. By saying that you don’t like a particular food in earshot of your little ones, you risk them absorbing that information and also taking on that behaviour.
What tips do you have for introducing trickier foods?
For the trickiest foods, I think it is important to help the child feel comfortable around these foods. This could include using the food in sensory play, e.g. making a farm yard out of porridge oats or a ball pit out of peas. By taking the food away from the table, you eliminate the pressure from the child facing the food on their plate but, instead, give them an opportunity to explore it in a play experience.
It can also be a good idea to engage the child in the process of buying, preparing and cooking the food. You can take them to the supermarket and ask them to choose the food so that they are able to see exactly where it comes from. Then, by cooking together, the child can observe and be involved in the process of preparing it. You can be as creative as you like, for example encouraging the child to make shapes in the food and express their creativity. Often, when a child is involved in cooking, they develop a sense of pride in their creation and will be more likely to eat it.
Is it normal for a child’s taste to vary quite regularly?
It is very normal for a child’s tastes to vary! It often makes me laugh when I pick my charges up from nursery and the practitioner will tell me that they ate all of their lamb tagine with chickpeas and couscous for lunch, fully knowing that they would never eat that if I cooked it for them at home! Going back to the importance of being flexible with children, we must remember the importance of the eating environment. Often, children will be more courageous with their food whilst at nursery because they are sat with their peers and able to see them eating the same foods, giving them confidence to explore the plate in front of them. As a parent or carer, it is important to have a clear line of communication with the setting, especially in terms of what the child is eating as a way of monitoring their eating behaviours. For example, knowing that my charge had eaten the tagine, I would not worry about exploring any more new foods that day because he has already explored enough for one day! It is really all about balance and not overwhelming a child with too much at once.