Your guide to dealing with your fussy eater

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guide to fussy eaters
If you're one of the lucky few that sailed through weaning, another common problem to arise is having a fussy eater.

Having lulled you into a false sense of security, your tot will wake one morning with dietary requirements that would make a Michelin-starred restaurant struggle.

Wielding power is what being a toddler is all about, and there aren't many ways they can do this, apart from demanding 'red' jam sandwiches, rejecting everything green or insisting that something is their favourite food one day and yet hate it when faced with it the next.

Fussy eating tends to arise around the 12-month mark.

'As a child becomes more aware of the world, their natural instincts may make them suspicious of new foods,' explains clinical child psychologist Dr Angharad Rudkin, who works for the NHS and specialises in food and sibling behaviour.

'It's nature's way of protecting us from eating food that's potentially harmful.'

While there are very few things more frustrating than watching other children eating healthy vegetables while yours won't have anything but nuggets, the odds are that you haven't done anything wrong.

Show them how its done

Children (just like adults) simply have different tastes and appetites. All you can do is encourage good eating habits by setting an example. If your child sees you eating and enjoying lots of different types of food, he should, eventually, copy you.

Sharing mealtimes is definitely a good idea, even if you just have a sandwich while feeding your child. 'If children are fed on their own and all the attention is focused on them and their eating, they may see it as the perfect way to hold your attention and prolong meals by playing rather than eating,' suggests Dr Rudkin.

Don't force them

So what happens when your 3-year-old refuses his meal for no reason other than he can't be bothered, and then returns 15 minutes later complaining he's hungry?

'There's a great deal of difference between asking a child firmly to eat his meal and making him sit in front of a plateful of congealing food for hours,' advises Dr Rudkin.

'If children refuse to eat and you know that there's no underlying reason, explain that they'll be hungry later and there won't be anything else on offer until the next meal.'

Your child could end up developing a negative attitude towards food if they're forced to clean their plate every meal.

Don't panic

'Although nothing is more likely to cause parental anxiety than worrying
about whether or not your little one is thriving, very few children
develop a serious eating problem,' says Dr Gill Harris, Consultant
Clinical Psychologist at the Birmingham Children's Hospital.

'If they have the energy to run around and they looks fine, then it
indicates that they're getting enough nourishment.'

If you're genuinely worried, talk to your GP or health visitor. But
don't overlook the idea that we may have unrealistic expectations of how
much our children need.

Dr Harris notes that, as adults, we're used to three regular meals a
day. For younger children, however, five or six smaller meals may be
more appropriate, and it's better to offer second helpings rather than
overfill their plates.

Also, ensure milk or juice drinks aren't acting as meal replacements,
don't forget milk is more like a food than a drink.


Get them familiar with different foods early

Experts agree that the earlier you introduce particular types of food - preferably within the first year - the more likely they are to be accepted by your children, but there are no guarantees.

Even though you shouldn't force them to eat food they don't appear to like, it's important not to give up as soon as they reject a certain food.

'Babies have heightened senses and so they need to touch, taste and smell things around them and this includes food,' says expert nanny Claire Burgess.

'Adults sometimes see babies spit out food or make faces to certain flavours or textures and then assume that the baby doesn't like it.

‘They need to keep reintroducing this as it might be the initial experience - remember babies prior to starting solid foods will have only had milk which is the same consistency and similar in taste.'

Keep your cool

Another golden rule is to stay calm and never make an issue out of a refusal to eat. But that's easier said than done when your 2-year-old has thrown her meal on the floor because it wasn't quite to her liking, or your three-year-old won't even come to the table.

Remember, children have a different agenda: from their point of view, eating's a waste of their playing time, and if we make mealtimes boring by nagging, it's even worse.

A child won't understand that eating at the table is acceptable, but that running around with a sandwich isn't; or that greens are good and too much sugar is bad.

We may well explain it to them, but the chances are that our arguments will sound like, 'blah, blah, blah and blah.' Some studies say we have to try some types of food at least 10 times before we develop a liking for them, so if your child's reluctant to give anything new a go, it's worth gently persisting. If he won't eat peas, put a couple on his plate and encourage, rather than coerce him to try.

Take a note of their eating schedule

Clinical psychologist Dr Netali Levi says that monitoring your child's
eating habits over the course of a week could provide a key insight to
help you manage.

'Do they become hungry at particular times or are they filling up on
snacks in between meals, so are less hungry at mealtimes?' she says you
should consider.

Dr Netali also says to watch how they eat when they're tired or unhappy,
which can often explain their reluctance to eat.


Get creative

Apparently, 40% of mums resort to arranging food into shapes or patterns in an attempt to get their children to eat.

If it works and you have the time, go for it. But it can backfire. The key must be to find a balance.

Nourishing, healthy food doesn't have to mean slaving away on some culinary masterpiece. Don't forget there's as much sustenance in a slice of ham, a carrot stick and bowl of pasta as there is in a labour-intensive home-made casserole, and it's much easier to live with a rejected carrot stick than a dish that's taken ages to cook.

Continued below...

Getting them involved with the cooking can also make food a lot more exciting. Check out our Kids Kitchen series to see how to prepare easy meals with little ones in tow!

All pages in this article

  1. 1. Your guide to dealing with your fussy eater
  2. 2. Rules: made to be broken?
  1. 3. Don't battle, just chill

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