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Fussy Eating in Children

Infant and Children | April 16, 2018 | Author: Naturopath

Children, infants

Fussy Eating in Children

If your child is refusing certain foods, you are not alone! Picking eating is a relatively common problem during childhood ranging from 8% to 50% of children. If your child is a fussy eater they may only eat a limited amount of food (particularly vegetables), be unwilling to try new foods, and have strong food preferences often leading to parents having to provide different meals from the rest of the family. This can result in considerable parental anxiety, meal time battles and possible nutritional deficiencies for the child. Various strategies can help your child accept a wider range of foods and establish healthier eating patterns.

Starting from a young age

The younger you start offering a wide-variety of healthy foods the more likely your child is to broaden their food appreciation. Even delaying lumpy foods until the age of 10 months, compared to 6 months, results in a higher likelihood of your child being a fussy eater later on. However, even if your child is well past this stage it’s never too late to implement changes and here are some further recommendations.

Be patient with new foods

It’s always important to have on offer a variety of different foods, while still offering nutritious foods you know they will eat. The trick is to be patient—it may take up to a dozen times before your child will accept a new food. 
Don’t push it—be encouraging and let it happen naturally. If they refuse a food or meal, don’t cave in and give them what they want. This will teach them to be a fussy eater.

If you feel they haven’t had enough, you could offer them a healthy snack a bit later.

Setting a good example

Children learn behaviours from their parents. Research indicates, that if you are a fussy eater, your child is likely to be a fussy eater too.

If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit. However, if you restrict yourself to a narrow range of foods, your child may copy this behaviour. It might also be that you are offering limited foods that you like, and they dislike—meaning that your child’s tastes are different to yours.
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Children’s appetites

The appetite of a child varies significantly from an adult—remember they only have small stomach’s. They may go through stages where they eat you out of house and home or they barely touch a meal. This is completely normal! Factors that can impact appetite include illness, tiredness and emotional upsets. Compare what they have eaten in a week, rather than focusing on what they have consumed in a day. Children are very clever at modulating their own appetite depending on their body’s needs.

Structured mealtimes

Children respond well to routine and eating meals as a family at set times can help instil healthy eating behaviours. Try and stay relaxed, use this as a time for family communication and fun. Avoid eating dinner too late as your child may be too tired and emotional.

Food suggestions for the fussy at heartFood suggestions for the fussy at heart

Here are some healthy suggestions of what your child can eat for main meals and snacks. Get them involved in the food production process by growing your own vegetables, selecting food at the supermarket and helping in the kitchen.

Healthy snacks

  • Mashed avocado with corn chips or brown rice crackers
  • Tahini and honey on brown organic corn cakes
  • Home-made rolled oats, mashed banana, almond meal and dark choc chip cookies
  • Raw or lightly steamed veggies with a home-made dip
  • Natural yoghurt with strawberries and chia seeds
  • Smoothie with mango, banana, kale, baby spinach and milk of your choice

Main meals

If your child is refusing main meals it may mean that they are filling up on too many snacks throughout the day. If this is the case, you may find limiting their snack intake helpful. Make sure your child is drinking plenty of fluids—ideally just water but this can include small amounts of milk and freshly squeezed juices. Adopt the principles of the healthy eating pyramid by offering foods from each food group such as healthy fats/oils, dairy, protein, grains, nuts and seeds, lentils, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Avoid focussing on just one food group or just one type of grain to promote a wide variety of nutrition and food likes.

Breakfast suggestionsFood suggestions for the fussy at heart

  • Omelette with finely grated zucchini and cheese
  • Scrambled egg with chives on wholemeal rye bread
  • Home-made banana bread
  • Porridge with natural yoghurt and blueberries

Lunch suggestions

  • Crumbed fish with mixed steamed vegetables and baked sweet potato
  • Sushi with chicken, avocado, cucumber and carrot
  • Mountain bread wrap with avocado, grated cheese and carrot and lettuce
  • Poached egg with raw veggie sticks

Dinner suggestions

  • Spaghetti bolognaise with finely grated veggies in the food processor and served with wholemeal angel hair pasta
  • Lamb and vegetable stir-fry with brown basmati rice
  • Wholemeal pitta pizzas with capsicum, pineapple, chicken and grated cheese
  • Baked potato with spiralised veggies and sour cream

Something sweet

Typically desert is something sugary and unhealthy. While it’s ok to offer treats on occasion it is not necessary for children to have foods such as chocolate or ice-cream every day. If you are trying to get your child to eat dinner, bribery with a sweet treat isn’t a good method. It sends the message that desert is the best food which might only increase your child’s desire for sweet foods. If you would like to offer a small snack after dinner this could include fresh fruit, home-made date and nut balls or natural yoghurt.

When to seek help

If you are concerned about your child’s nutrition, weight and growth you can get in contact with your doctor or paediatrician for further advice. Fussy eating might be a sign of an underlying medical condition and if there are other accompanying symptoms you should let your doctor know.

Things to remember

  • Fussy eating in children is very common
  • Remain calm and continue to offer your child a variety of foods
  • Set a good example by eating healthy foods yourself

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References

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/toddlers-and-fussy-eating

http://www.health.nsw.gov.au/oralhealth/Publications/toothsmart-5-tips-for-fussy-eaters.pdf

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948

Dovey TM, et al. Food neophobia and 'picky/fussy' eating in children: a review. Appetite. 2008 Mar-May;50(2-3):181-93

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17997196

Lafraire J, et al. Food rejections in children: Cognitive and social/environmental factors involved in food neophobia and picky/fussy eating behavior. Appetite. 2016 Jan 1;96:347-357

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26391004

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