Parents, particularly mothers, desperately want and need to feed their children enough food. It is estimated that 25% of children will have mild feeding problems. However, this is increased to between 40% and 70% in infants born prematurely or having chronic medical conditions. This means that it is rather common for moms to have a tough time with their toddlers and fussy eating.
Signs and Symptoms of Fussy Eaters
It is perfectly normal for children to experience a mild version of the following:
- Only accepting a narrow range of food choices
- Extreme preference for certain brands of food
- Anxiety when faced with a new food item
- Inability to eat any foods, including foods regularly chosen within the home, when not at home
- Preference toward avoiding food, often for an entire day, instead of trying something new
However it is worth involving health care professionals such as a speech therapist, occupational therapist, child psychologist, paediatric dietitian, or doctor, when you pick up the following signs and symptoms:
- Failure to thrive
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing
- Recurrent pneumonia or chronic lung disease
- Frequent vomiting
- Prolonged mealtimes (±30 minutes)
Saying These 3 Things Will Not Help
1. “You won’t get dessert unless you finish your vegetables”
Using dessert as a bribe or a threat is so tempting when you are desperate for your child to eat their food. We know most kids will do anything for a sugar hit. But not only are you showing your desperation, you’re giving them an extremely unhelpful message: eating the savoury bit or vegetables is a chore. You are inadvertently saying that it is something you just have to endure to get to the sweet bit – which is delicious and the only part worth getting to. It’s subconscious, but loud and clear.
2. “The asparagus is really yummy. Mummy loves it”
This is subtle, but nevertheless, heard simply as “Pleeeease eat some”. As a parent, be a good role model by all means. Eat your salad and your vegetables. Try a variety of new vegetables frequently. Don’t have cake for breakfast. But also, don’t point it out to your children. Let it work by osmosis.
3. “You are such a fussy eater!”
Even if you have a child who would choose to live entirely off of plain white bread with tomato sauce, never actually call them the “F word”. This will give your child the perfect excuse – that no one is expecting them to eat this. They will think “I’m a fussy eater. I can’t help it.” Try to avoid letting them see you telling anyone else either. There are plenty of parents in all your social circles venting their worries and frustrations about fussy eating. Join in by all means because it can be fantastic therapy. Just not in front of the kids.
Doing These 6 Things Will Help
1. Introduce a variety of foods early
Get going as soon as possible with offering them a range of healthy foods after weaning from exclusive breastmilk is established (after the age of 6 months). Research does show that if your child has been introduced to a wide variety of foods straight from weaning, they are more likely to accept them. Only 4% of new foods are accepted after the age of two. A delay in offering textured, ‘lumpy’ foods or chunks of food can contribute to later faddy eating.
Remember no child can like everything and that is okay. Most children aged around 2 – 3 will have chosen their favourite food and may take against certain other foods that they have previously liked. Children may use food refusal as a way to get your attention, or a reaction, or as a tool. If your child is not underweight and seems healthy in general, and does eat some foods from each of the food groups then you shouldn’t worry too much. If they see you get agitated, or if you try to force them to eat, this may only make the fussy eating worse.
3. Build on Accepted Foods
If your child loves milk, then add a small amount of blended fruit to make a milkshake and gradually increase the amount and variety of fruits used. It is quite unlikely to refuse ALL types of fruits and vegetables at the same time. Introduce a new “disliked” vegetable alongside the accepted one once every few weeks.
4. Be Mindful of Snacks
A child needs to be hungry to eat well, so be careful you aren’t overloading on snack foods. You may think that at least you are finally getting food in, but you’re setting yourself up for a difficult next meal. In between meals try offering only water for drinks and snacks of fresh fruit or vegetable batons between meals.
5. Make Mealtimes Pleasant
Where possible, do try to feed your child during family mealtimes, as they will learn by example that this is the time to eat all of their food like the rest of the family does. Make mealtimes a happy, social occasion. Try not to worry about spilled drinks or food on the floor. Be careful of praising the child when they eat the food you have been desperate for them to try. Rather do not make a fuss about it, but allow for them to play with their favourite toy after dinner as positive reinforcement. Also, if a child really doesn’t want their meal, never force them to sit there with uneaten food for ages after others have finished. Set a time limit on each meal of 20 – 30 minutes.
6. Give YOUR Child A Say
It is a good idea to allow the child, once old enough, to have some choice in the matter. For example you might allow that they can choose which vegetable they will eat. Just ensure to limit the options to two or three things so as not to overwhelm or confuse the child.
You are Not Alone
As a parent, the most important thing is to know that you are not alone when it comes to having to deal with fussy eating! Just as a child teethes or goes through a growth spurt they may become fussy for a time. Keep these solutions for fussing eating in mind when the situation arises.
If you feel that you need further support to deal with fussy eating in your home, get in touch today.