cildren eat healthy galway
cildren eat healthy galway

Is my child's fussy eater a normal phase?

1. It is a ‘normal phase' for many toddlers, which happens partly because of their developmental need to exert more independence. Yet just because behaviour is common, it doesn’t mean we have to just accept it (like separation anxiety). While the rejection of formerly ‘preferred’ foods can be viewed like many of the other phases kids go through, research shows that a significant percentage of kids don’t grow out of picky eating and it lasts years for many.

Research has confirmed that the first 3-4 years set the foundation for long-term eating throughout life.  This is particularly with regard to how varied their diet is: if it’s limited in these first years, it will probably remain the same. Research supports this by revealing that the strongest indicator of the number of foods liked at age 8 is the number of foods liked at age 4.  

 2 S/he will outgrow it. Increasingly more and more kids don’t outgrow their limited diets without some change of approach. Often parents think if they persist in what they’re doing that someday things will just improve.  To rephrase Albert Einstein ‘doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting (a) different result’ may not be the best. 

 

If you’ve tried different ways of feeding your kids and they haven't worked, it might mean you haven’t found the right strategy…yet. 

 

This formed part of an article that first appeared on www.mummypages.ie.

Proven changes to try with your fussy eater

While fussy eating can be complex and varies with individual kids, how we interact with food around our kids can be very influential. Having said that, I always say to my clients “what’s done is done” so regardless of what has happened in the past, it’s important to focus on what we can do in the present and into the future.

 

  1. Lots of focus on nutrients

While we may think that focusing on nutrients helps our kids eat better, it may not be the case. Some kids are particularly sensitive to this perceived pressure and the result may have unintended consequences, including reduced appetite or negative feelings towards a certain food or meals in general.

Try: Focus less on the nutrients and more on fostering a healthy relationship with food. One simple way of doing this is to lighten the atmosphere at mealtime by chatting, being silly, telling jokes, labelling the food with cool names like ‘x-ray vision carrots’. Even small, simple changes like relabeling food can positively change kids’ views.  This is particularly important for eaters who maybe somewhat anxious and need to take their time to learn about different foods. Research supports this by showing that fun meals reduce picky eating. Think simply in terms of   whether everyone including yourself is enjoying eating together.  And of course; as kids relax more, they are more likely to eat better and consume more nutritious food.

 

  1. “Just two more bites of food please”. 

This is a line many of us use to ensure our kids eat particular foods like veggies. However, this may not be the most ideal way to get our kids to eat. One reason for this is that we (as ‘external bodies’) are dictating how much our kids should eat, rather than allowing our kids to learn to self-regulate their own food intake.

Try: One alternative to this is to serve a small portion of each of the various foods on their plate and encourage your child to have a bite of each of the foods before they look for more of one food. This ensures that your child isn’t filling up on their favourite like pasta first and then having no room for the less preferable foods.

 

  1. Asking ‘What would you like to eat?’ 

While most kids crave more control, starting usually when they’re a toddler, research shows that  kids  who  are  given too  many  food choices don’t  choose  wisely. Its better if children are  given  some guidance, yet still ensuring they have some freedom.

Try: Choices are a great way to give the ‘much-sought after control’, for example, let your child pick one of two foods. This works best if you always ensure there are at least one or two “reasonable” foods served at all times.  The reasonable food means that it’s acceptable to even the most fussy of eaters, for example, a small portion of fruit, pasta etc.

Kids can also be involved in picking other aspects of the meal including what cup they use etc. However, adults are in the best position to plan meals and snacks, both in terms of timing and what is served. Obviously some flexibility is necessary, for example, you can ask if your child is ready to eat now or in 15 minutes? 

 

  1. Keeping it too clean. 

While we may not appreciate messy eaters, research shows that kids benefit from exploring food, whether its touching, licking, smelling of the food etc. This helps fussy eaters in particular develop more tolerance for new foods or foods that they are wary of.  

Try: Encourage your kids to play with food and explore the different properties of foods including trickier-to-eat wet, hot or mushy foods. For  some,  food  exploration  happens  best  away  from  the  table  so  there  is  no  expectation  of  eating.  Getting your kids involved can happen in lots of ways including food planning (like picking 1 recipe out of a choice of 2) shopping, food preparation and cooking etc.

 

  1. Not offering foods once they’re rejected

Often we do not continue offering foods that have been rejected by our kids. Research  shows  that  children  have  to  be  exposed  to  a  new  food  around  10  times  before  they’ll  actually  eat  it;  though,  the  number  varies  depending  on  the particular food. Research  also  shows  that  most  of us  give  up  after  4  or  5  attempts.  

Try:  Young kids don’t have stable taste preferences and are still exploring. They don’t always know what they like, for example, new foods. Therefore it’s vital to keep exposing kids to a variety of foods and the same food in a variety of ways so they can become more accustomed to the food and more comfortable with it.

Don’t take what your child says about food so seriously. Don’t assume that once rejected that food is always rejected. A food might be rejected at a certain time for a number of reasons other than not liking the food including not being hungry, wanting to play instead etc.

This article first appeared in http://www.familyfriendlyhq.ie

Fussy eating habits and children

Poor eating habits can develop quite easily and quickly, without us even realising it.
 
While kids may gravitate to eating  the easiest foods (like white bread) as they are a quick source of energy, this results in frequent low blood sugar levels (ie your child is running out of fuel for both their body and mind). This may result in your child being irritable, losing concentration etc. 

Do you need help for your fussy eater?

To get help or not for your fussy eater? Here’s the lowdown:

 

Parents with kids who don’t eat well can wonder should they seek expert help and also when should this happen, for example, should help be sought if it persists a certain length of time?

 

With fussy eating it can be difficult to know if it's going to last. Therefore it’s important to know what to be more concerned about:

  • Your child has experienced weight loss or isn't growing. This is a major concern. Of course multitude causes can be at play here and your child’s medical team need to investigate medical factors. Then a limited diet (in terms of quantity, quality or variety) can be explored.
  • If their list of acceptable foods is short or declining over time.
  • Your child demonstrates a negative response to many foods, including signs of distress or anxiety, such as crying, anger, or tantrums.
  • Your child is resistant to subtle changes in food e.g., if it’s served differently to how “exactly they like it,” or changes in their preferred brands etc.
  • Your child is overweight. It’s a myth to assume all fussy eaters are thin. Some picky eaters are overweight because they mainly eat ‘other’ foods rather than what I call ’growing foods’ like fruit and vegetables.
  • Your child mainly eats different foods from the rest of the family. The problem with this is that it means more work for the cook. Yet even more importantly, ‘kid friendly’ food is usually a poorer quality than ‘adult food’. Think of most kid’s menus: they’re composed of chips, sausages, nuggets and the likes. Is this just a marketing gimmick to get kids to think they should be eating different foods from adults?
  • Your child doesn’t eat the major food groups, which are: Carbohydrates (Grains or cereals), Protein (Meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes), Vegetables, Fruit, Calcium sources can be found in the above (whether dairy or dairy free) and lastly, I would also include good fats (including unsaturated fats and essential fats).

 

One simple way of determining if your child has adequate variety is to write down everything they eat for a few days. Then categorise each item according to their food group. Sometimes this can be very revealing for example, you may not realise that your child’s intake is dominated by various forms of carbohydrate (like pasta, cereal, bread, crackers etc).

 

Finally you may feel you would benefit from expert guidance if:

  • Meal times are simply stressful.
  • You would like to be proactive, to avoid picky eating getting worse or continuing long-term.
  • You are unsure how best to handle your child’s fussy eating.
This formed part of an article that first appeared in www.mummypages.ie.
The above information is general only and does not apply to everyone. If you’re looking for personalised, healthy eating support and advice for your child, why not consider booking a consultation with me? Email me at colette@growinghealthyeaters.ie
 
 
Expert help is available in Galway or Online. 

 Book a Consultation or Talk Today

colette reynolds

BA (Psych), MSc (Health Psych), PhD (Health Promotion), Member of AHPI, BTEC (Nutrition & Health Coaching), IINH Certified

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