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  • Rebecca Stevens

Fussy eating - tips to tackle mealtime madness

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

What is a fussy eater? The term ‘fussy eater’ covers a range of behaviours and a spectrum of fussiness levels from rejecting food unless it is beige to refusing any new food or spitting new foods out.

There is one very important fact to clear up first. Fussy eating is mostly connected to physiological (e.g. a child with hypersensitivity will notice stronger tastes or smells more readily than one without) or medical issues (e.g. a baby with reflux might be fussy as they associate food with pain) rather than parental behaviour or interaction. Some of the fussiness can be followed back to caveman times – toddlers at this time rejected food they were unfamiliar with from a self preservation perspective. If your child does the same this is completely normal behaviour and something called food neophobia (fear of new foods). Hopefully understanding this will help remove some of the angst over family feeding time especially when younger kids are involved.

It is also important to remember that young children do not have a lot of control over their lives and food and meal times are areas where they can be firmly in control. That said, keeping calm and preventing the dining table from becoming a battle ground should also have a positive influence on what and how your child/children eat. This isn’t always easy if you are a) rushing b) tired c) fed up or a combination of all three.

To help make mealtimes more successful in your home try to keep these easy to implement steps in mind:

1. Don’t force feed your child - although it is difficult not to do this (I’ve been guilty of this myself) always remember there is a division of responsibility. Your responsibility is to choose, cook and provide the food. (And then probably clear it up, let’s not forget the Family Catering Manager’s job isn’t complete once food is on the table). Your child’s responsibility is to eat the food without you taking over. Words of encouragement are fine here but ideally you are trying to get your child to listen to their own hunger and fullness cues. Breastfed babies feed on demand so children should be able to eat by themselves until they are full. Don’t be surprised if they suddenly have room for pudding but not all their main course. Adults are guilty of meal fatigue too.

2. Focus on the positives – it is worth repeating that mealtimes can quickly decent in to a battle with frustration and anger brewing on both sides. If your child was willing to try something new or eat well, once they are annoyed, angry and frustrated this is unlikely to happen. Stress at mealtimes can also lead to a decrease in appetite so let’s all commit to staying chill around the table. Instead of picking up on all the negatives, focus on the positives instead e.g. you’re sitting very nicely at the table today, well done for trying x, y or z.

3. Get them involved – getting children involved works wonders. Ask them to pick a recipe, take them to the shops and task them with age-appropriate steps in preparing the dish. This works very well with my own kids when I’m introducing new meals.

4. Think about your child’s nutrition over a week – this will take the strain off mealtimes when they haven’t eaten so well and you’ll also be less inclined to make them finish their meals. Always try and serve a balanced meal but don’t worry too much if one food group has been picked at rather than wolfed down. Adults have days where we eat more than others and so do children. Your child/children may not have been as active that day or perhaps something else is bothering them e.g. tiredness, feeling ill.

5. Be consistent

Whoever is in charge, mum, dad, babysitter, grandparents. Young children love consistency. Once you’ve introduced a ‘change’ or an approach, stick with it. Don’t introduce a change and swap to something different the next day.

Good luck!

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