Fussy eating seems to be becoming more prominent in young children and research suggests that around 50% of parents reporting that their child is fussy or eats a limited diet. As part of my work I often deliver Fussy Eating Workshops for parents and it seems to be a real cause for concern across the board, regardless of social class or education.
Fussy eating is a common phase for a number of children. It’s also completely natural as most children are born with neophobia – a fear of new foods – a response to an unknown environment. However, how the fussy eating behaviour is dealt with can determine how long it is likely to last.
I came across a fantastic new website and mobile app which offer support to parents dealing with children who are a fussy about foods. This website includes tips and advice from specialist child feeding researchers at Loughborough University and a downloadable app which allows parents to track how many times children have been offered a certain food, as well as activities to raise awareness of how fussy behaviours are developed.
After a conversation with the team, they also shared their 10 top tips to dealing with fussy eating with me, which are very similar to top tips I use in my practice and always offer to parents:
- Offering children a variety of different tastes and textures when they are young will encourage them to enjoy a range of foods as they grow.
- Toddlers can struggle to eat large amounts of food at one mealtime. Three small meals and three small snacks spaced equally throughout the day often works best.
- Food is a necessity. It should NOT be used as a reward (e.g. for good behaviour or for eating another, lesser liked food), or taken away as a punishment.
- Restricting foods can make them unintentionally desirable. Keeping foods in the house that children can see but aren’t allowed to eat, such as crisps or biscuits, makes those foods more appealing. Children are then more likely to overeat such foods on other occasions (e.g., at parties, where they are unrestricted).
- If you must restrict, it’s better to restrict covertly. It’s harder to refuse a child when the temptation is in front of them. So, for example, avoid walking home past the sweet shop or McDonalds, and only keep healthy foods in your house, and you’ll avoid having to say “yes” or “no”, or bargaining.
- It can take 15-20 exposures before a child accepts a new taste. Introduce foods gradually, over time. Our free exposure monitor can help you to keep track of how often a food has been offered. Encouraging children to touch, taste, lick or smell a food can all help the food to become more familiar, meaning children are then more likely to eat it.
- Do not force feed children or pressure them to eat more than they want to. The “clean your plate” mantra is a thing of the past and could teach children to ignore the natural signs of feeling full, which could contribute to them becoming overweight.
- Try to have at least some meals at the table each week and avoid giving children meals in front of the television as this can distract them from eating.
- Praise children for trying new foods and for exhibiting appropriate behaviour at the table.
- Children love to copy. If they see you enjoying your vegetables at the dinner table, they are likely to have a go themselves.
To download the free app, visit http://www.childfeedingguide.co.uk/tips-and-tools.
For more information see my advice for parents on coping with fussy eaters.