Top tips for fussy eaters

Top tips for fussy eaters
Posted on January 18, 2016
Archive : January 2016
Category : News

Why wonít you eat your peas?

As parents, we all worry about how much or little our children are eating, if they are eating their five a day, if their diet is balanced or if they are having too much sugar or salt!

My son is two and a half and I am very aware that I spend too much time worrying about how much heís eaten or if heís had his five a day! In fact 1 in 3 parents worry about their childrenís relationship with food. Many parents go through phases of food refusal or Ďfussy eatingí; itís a normal part of parenthood, so rest assured you arenít on your own. I find this particularly frustrating when Iíve cooked a requested favourite dinner (sausage and mash in our case) and itís refused as its lovingly served to them ďNo thank you mummy, I donít like sausages!Ē

However frustrating it can be its very easy to get into trying anything and everything to get your child to eat. Cooking and offering alternative meals, negotiation and rewards are fine in to short term but they only lead to habits that are harder to manage in the future.

There are lots of things we can do if meal times have become a frustrating experience. Portion size is really significant in promoting a healthy relationship with food. Children need a portion about the size of their palm, so sometimes our expectations of how much children eat donít match their appetites. Children are very good at eating as much as they need to get by on, so some children will eat less than others. Their appetites will also vary as they grow and according to their activity levels. Too much food on a plate can be over whelming and off-putting.

Be patient with new foods, as they may need to be presented up to 13 times before a child will try. Let them try something new from your plate and praise them for showing an interest then introduce new foods slowly until they become familiar. Keep putting that floret of broccoli on their plate and one day they will take a nibble! Be ready with the praise that they tried it at last but donít be put off if they spit it out. Make sure you give the most attention and praise to the behaviour you would like repeated (ie sitting at the table sensibly and eating). The more attention you give for not eating, the more the behaviour will be repeated.

You are a brilliant role model because you are a powerful influence. If you are relaxed and confident around food your child will be too. Equally if you are anxious and stressed around meal times your child will be. It is so important to eat with your children as much as you can, even if you have a smaller portion of what they are having and eat your meal later. Eating is a social skill and children need role models to base their behaviour and eating habits on. It is clearly the most important factor especially when you have a fussy eater.

Toddler resistance and spitting out food is a natural reaction and is normal. Most toddlers will like mashed potato one day and to your frustration not the next; sometimes itís a strike for independence and wonít last long. Spitting out food they donít like is an instinct for survival and children between 1 and 2 years old are programmed to be cautious of what could be Ďpoisonous foodsí (back in the stone age when they had to fend for themselves). Toddlers also use food as an opportunity to exercise their independence by refusing to eat so remember not to get into a power struggle- they are great at digging their heels in. Take a deep breath and ignore the behaviour and continue with your meal, giving praise when they do eat!

Involving our children in preparing food, cooking, and shopping is something very few of us have time to do. Picking out the apples at a supermarket, helping chop the carrots for dinner or making a cake together all contribute in supporting children connect to with food. Playing with pretend food, a saucepan and some paper plates enables children to role play in trying foods or serving dinner like mum or dad which all contributes to positive experiences involving food.

If you feel you need to change your childís relationship with food take small steps to change habits in eating, habits wonít change overnight. Be calm and take a step back and consider some of these questions:

If you are finding meal times challenging, here are some useful questions to think about:

How much are they eating drinking in 24 hrs?

How many snacks do they eat between meals?

Does my child get more attention by refusing to eat than by eating what is on offer?

Do we have meal time routine?

Lastly, if you are worried that your child is not eating enough to survive and thrive or if meal times are causing anxiety for your child please contact your health professional who are always more than happy to help.

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