Many parents are naturally concerned if their child isn’t ‘eating their greens’. Almost half of toddlers are considered fussy eaters so the problem is very common. In fact, rather than calling it a ‘problem’, being a fussy eater should be seen as a normal part of a toddler’s development. It is how parents deal with a child’s fussy eating habit that is most important to focus on.
A fussy eater is a toddler or child who refuses to try a new food at least half of the time. While toddlers often start out enthusiastic to try new foods, many very rapidly become stubborn and unwilling to try new foods or eat those foods they previously ate.
Parents of fussy eaters may feel that their child may be missing out on important nutrition. This may be a misplaced concern as fussy eaters appear to meet their nutrient needs from food just as easily as other children.
Children learn behaviours from their parents so if you only eat a narrow range of foods, your child may notice and copy your wariness. Don’t limit your child’s food variety to only those foods you like. It may be that your child’s tastes are different to yours, and perhaps you are simply serving them foods they don’t happen to like.
Tips to encourage healthy eating
Dealing with a fussy eater may take some patience, so the first tip is not to give up and assume that the child disliked the food after only one or two feeding attempts. To be successful, the average child may need between eight and fifteen attempts to accept a new food, particularly if it is not sweet and has a challenging texture.
Parents concerned that their child is a picky eater should not be overly concerned, but should continue eating these foods for themselves in front of the child and persevere with giving the food to the child. Be a good role model. Try and eat with your children and share the food you like with them – let them see you eat and enjoy a wide variety of food.
- Try serving foods your child doesn’t like in new ways. For example, if your child insists that they hate spaghetti, try serving bow-tie pasta instead. If your child refuses plain steamed vegetables, ‘hide’ them in casseroles or soups.
- Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If a new food is rejected at your first attempt to serve it, leave it a few weeks and try again.
- What’s most important to the child’s health and growth is not the quantity, but the quality of the food they eat. So be sure to give your child nutritious food, without over-emphasising serving sizes or how much is eaten.
- Don’t use lollies, chocolates, biscuits, milk or desserts as bribes.
- Most children love to cook and they are more likely to eat a meal they have helped to make.
- Appreciate that your child’s stomach is small. Too much milk or fruit juice may be filling them up.
- Try giving your child six regular snack-sized meals every day instead of three main meals.
- If your child is hungry, don’t make them wait until the next meal. Give them something healthy to eat such as fruit, sandwiches or cheese.
- Offer your child lots of opportunities to make their own food choices from a variety of nutritious foods given in small portions, so as not to overwhelm your child with too much food.
Don’t delay introducing ‘lumpy’ foods
Babies who are given ‘lumpy’ foods between the ages of six and nine months are much less likely to become fussy eaters. ‘Lumpy foods’ are semi-solids like small bits of cooked soft vegetables or food that is semi-pureed. It doesn’t mean hard foods that could be a choking hazard.
Taking this advice presented will help increase the food variety a baby gets to taste. Exposing a baby to varied textures and tastes of foods at an early age can broaden their food appreciation and reduce the likelihood of being a fussy eating later on.