Time and time again I hear from my patients saying “my child is a fussy eater, he doesn't like this, he doesn't like that. She wont eat anything healthy! So, I want to write a little about this from my experience and clinical practice. Kids can actually develop food fussiness but we can actually have complete control over this. Interesting statement? Kids WILL have likes and dislikes, as this is a normal part of a growing taste palate. Often kids can actually dislike more foods than they actually like, this is where the issue lies.
Food habits aren't inherited, they are habitual and are formed. Yep, you are not going to like me saying this, and I do apologize in advance, but advise you to read on with an open mind. I know as I am myself, a new mum I will struggle at times, however I plan to use these tips in this blog to raise myself a ‘whole-food lover’. I have also helped many families with kids whom are “fussy eaters” and turned them into ‘whole-food’ kids. It takes a lot of patience and perseverance from you as a parent.
By around 10-12 months on, you have already introduced a variety of foods, textures and they are more than likely eating the same foods as you are. I encourage families to eat together and to eat the same foods at this age. You can modify the texture to lumpy purees, or cut them into smaller pieces to suit their texture preference. I really do not encourage you to make special meals for them, this can actually hinder and detrimentally affect and create, ‘fussy eaters’. I always say, if it is good enough for you to eat, then it is good enough for baby to eat. It may even encourage you to eat healthier, eat less salt and make sure it’s a nutritionally sound meal for the entire family.
1. Make a Meal-Time Routine.
We are all busy, and routines can be hard to keep, but this is a key component to ensuring positivity around the dinner table. Sitting down to a family meal is one of the most important parts of A. communication and social development, and B. being a role model around meal times. (Sometimes this is hard if hubby or wife works late, but dish yourself a small portion and eat with your little person, and try on the weekends to eat as a family unit) This is one thing down the track that will make your life much easier, this can be, painful to start with, yes.
Toddlers move about, up and down, in and out of their seats and it can be very hard to keep still at the table…. persistence is key here and just keep doing it and don't give in, they will soon realise that family meal times are part of their everyday routine.
2. Have Set Snack Times, No All Day Grazing.
If you have felt the urge to constantly supply your toddler with an array of snacks to keep them busy and eating through the day, how can we expect them to sit still and have an appetite come meal times? Kids need to snack...yes, and these snacks need to be nutritious and at set times throughout the day to ensure they are nice and hungry at meal times.
A banana half an hour before dinner is not ideal, yet time and time again, I hear parents saying, “but it's only fruit!” Or at least it's healthy ? This is true, but this is filling for a small tummy and can reduce your toddlers appetite significantly, and take up valuable room for the beautiful meal that is set before your family.
3. Lead By Example.
Children learn by example, and they certainly don’t follow orders and advice at a young age. Eat what you want them to eat. If you don’t want them eating rubbish, empty foods, don’t buy them! Most importantly don’t eat them yourself (save that secret mummas stash of chocolate for after they go to bed). . They wont know that this is even an option, if it isn't provided. Sure they may not like to eat their broccoli and that is their personal taste but this will change I promise you.
If children see you eating, and enjoying a range of healthy foods, they will want to be apart of this. Kids often have the most amazingly adaptable and changing taste buds.
Children whom eat the same as their parents, actually have been found to have a healthier diet. A study from the University of Edinburgh has found that children, who are fed the same food as the rest of the family, eat more fruit, veggies, less saturated fat, less sodium and often snack less on bad foods.
Dr Skafida, actually pointed out in this study, that food designed to be “kids food” either in homes, or out at restaurants are not as nutritious as adult food. Well, Well, Well the old chicken nuggets and chips aren't healthier? Who would have thought… sorry. Yes they are cheaper, but there is a reason for this, why not share your meal with them if cost is an issue? After all a palm size portion of ‘steak’ is all that an adult needs, and often meals at restaurants are actually too big anyway. Even better, order their meal from the normal menu and ask the staff to make it an entree size or split the meal between one or more kids!
4. Don't Make More Than One meal.
This is a common occurrence in many households. Families often fall into the trap where they make more than one meal, not only is time timely, costly and often wasteful, it is also telling the kids that they eat different to adults, and that if they don't like what's for dinner, mum will make me something different. The study previously mentioned explores this issue.
“When children refuse to eat adult food during the family meal, it is a common coping strategy for parents to create separate and different child-friendly food alternatives, often of inferior nutritional value to the family meal. This seems to be a widespread phenomenon, also reflected in child menus offered at restaurants which are typically of poorer nutritional value than adult equivalents,” Sr Skafida said.
5. Don’t Force It.
Changing habits, doesn't mean forcing foods onto them to resolve fussiness, this can only exacerbate the issue. The more emphasis on them having to finish their dinner, the more often it becomes more stressful for the child and especially the parent or worsen the problem.
Children will develop their own likes and dislikes naturally, keep offering it with an open mind and don’t fall into the trap of trying once and assuming, “he doesn't like beetroot”. You can also influence what they like by the energy and tone of the way you give them food, if you yourself don’t like fish, then you may not offer it to them as often, or subconsciously think ‘oh, well they wont like that either’. Don’t make decisions about foods on behalf of the kids.
6. Make It Tasty and Appealing.
Have fun with it. Let the kids try different herbs and spices, such as cinnamon, cardamon. tumeric, coriander, garlic and ginger. Keep offering it, as bland foods can often lead to fussy eaters. Eating activates so many of the bodies senses, taste, smell, sight, sometimes even hearing. I too would get bored and frustrated if all I was given was bland food and boiled veggies and told to eat it. Try stir fries, curries, tagines, and season well. (Naturally of course)
7. Accept That Your Child Won't Starve.
That's right, they won't starve, but also don't offer anything later as they may learn that if they don't eat their dinner they will get a snack later. A great tip from my mother in Law was only offer them a carrot later, or cover their meal so they can have that when they are hungry later, and keep consistent.
I believe in preparing one delicious wholesome and nutritious meal for the whole family, with lots of variety allowing for individual tastes being critical. And don't make food decisions on behalf of your child, let them try it for themselves and make up their own mind as to whether they like it or not. There are many more tips we have as practitioners and nutritionists to help meal times become less stressful, here are just a few tid bits as a bit of food for thought.
There are extreme cases of food fussiness and this can be very frustrating and concerning. Speak to you practitioner about this to help you gain an understanding as to what may be going on and address any deficiencies accordingly. To book and appointment to speak to us at Mums and Bubs Nutritionist click here.