Fussy eating is a phase experienced by many children. While we don't know exactly why kids become fussy, neophobia seems to be part of the answer. A fear of trying now foods is hard wired within us from prehistoric times when some of our food choices may have proved poisonous.
Fussy eating generally starts after the age of one, a time of empowerment for a little one where they feel they want to assert their authority and eat what they want - not what mum wishes. Around this stage the growth spurt slows so the demand of energy is less, which means appetite may be lower, tipping in to fussiness. Finally, food may be fuel but to a toddler it is also power, power to play up to your parents and get their undivided attention.
As a mother of a fussy eater, I understand parents' concerns that children run the risk of missing out on essential vitamins and minerals. Iron for example, which helps with growth development and energy, zinc which helps ward off infections and the much talked about Vitamin D deficiency which can lead to rickets.
Here are my tips for parents of fussy eaters:
You are not alone
30% of children go through a fussy eating phase. Remind yourself of this every time dinner erupts into a full on food fight. This is a phase and like teething and colic it too will pass, be patient!
Try not to get frustrated
Most children will eat when they are hungry - common sense I know but hard to fathom when a recent survey by Abbott reveals 68% of us become frustrated with our little ones fussy eating and almost half of us feel stressed!
Whilst feeding your offspring might seem the most natural and basic duty of a parent, it can be a battle. However emotional you feel about your child’s eating habits keep it to yourself as they will only play up if they feel they are getting attention.
Set an example
Mealtimes are important for all the family as a focus for communication and bonding. Aim to have everyone eating the same thing in the same sitting. Children mimic their parents so don’t pass on the vegetables unless you want your little one to do the same.
Have a routine
Schedule three meals and a few small snacks throughout the day and stick to it like clockwork. Allocate 30 minutes for meals and then lift the plate whether it’s finished or not, without making a fuss. Making them sit staring at a cold plate creates negative associations and annoys the chef! Nobody wins.
Don't let them fill up on liquids
Overdrinking is one of the main causes of fussy eating. The tiny stomach of a toddler is easily filled up with fluid reducing their appetite for food. Limit milk to 500mls per day and / or dilute 100mls fruit juice with water over the course of the day.
As we are hardwired to fear new foods, similarly we favour sweet foods over bitter ones as our instinct tells us the latter might be bad or even deadly. Children like the foods that are most familiar to them. If at first you don’t succeed you may need to try 10-14 times before they will actually taste it.
Avoid offering large portions of food. Aim for small portions, which enable them to ask for more, the holy grail for the parent with a fussy eater! Limit their choices. A huge array of food on a plate will only put them off.
Make it fun
Encourage your kids in the preparation of food and make it fun. Dinosaur pasta and fairy mash sounds much better than boring bolognaise and potatoes. Be adept at sneaking veg in, concealed in pasta tubes, grated, diced or pureed.
Beware the bribe
If you offer an alternative of chips, biscuits or lollies they are sure to perform at the next meal time knowing you will cave in. Praise a clean plate and avoid confrontation if they have only picked.
Ask for help
It may be a common issue but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. If your child is displaying worrying symptoms like behavioural issues, fatigue, digestive problems or weight loss seek advice from your GP.
Dr Pixie is working with PaediaSure Shake highlighting the need for more realistic support for parents with fussy eaters. For more information, see fussyeaters.co.uk. PaediaSure Shake is available from Boots and Boots online (www.boots.com) priced at £10.