Fussy Eater Guide
Have you've got a little fussy eater?
If your child is rejecting or throwing a tantrum at mealtimes, this can be completely normal.
In most cases, hiding fruits & vegetables in meals, frequent introduction, bribery and patience can guide you through the fussy eating phase.
But what happens when fussy eating leads to outright refusal to eat anything but crackers or chocolate chips? Perhaps you have a child that refuses most fruits and vegetables or limits themselves to a few specific foods. In these more extreme cases of fussy eating it can be a daunting experience trying to ensure your child is having enough or eat or getting their optimal nutrition.
As a naturopath, I work with children who are chronic fussy eaters including children with autism spectrum disorder, anxiety or attention-deficit disorder. Through my experience of working with fussy-eaters, I have compromised an ultimate fussy-eaters guide to get you through this awkward stage!
Prevention is the best method for fussy eating.
The most common mistake I see is introducing sweet foods to children too early. Sweet foods include natural sugar found in foods like banana, pumpkin, kumura, mango and sweet fruit. If these are the first foods your child is exposed to it can be easy for your child to develop a sweet tooth.
This becomes apparent when you begin to introduce food like broccoli, cauliflower, avocado, silverbeet or meat into your child's diet. If your child is used to having sweet food they may begin to reject any food which does not have the familiar sweet taste they are used to.
I mean, if you were a child wouldn't you much rather a piece of sweet banana over boiled broccoli?
I recommend introducing bland foods or vegetables into the diet first so your child can get used to them. After this, I recommend offering sweeter foods in smaller quantities or frequency.
It is Important to offer babies a wide variety of food between the ages of 6-12 months months, before they have the ability to get fussy!
Already Have a Fussy Eater? My Tips & Tricks
Don't give into bribery: It can be easy to bribe your child into eating their broccoli in exchange for a sweet treat or reward afterwards. Sounds like a win-win situation right? Bribing your child with food can develop unhealthy eating behaviors or associations. I mean, how many of us feel the need for a sweet treat after we've had a healthy balanced dinner?
Your toddler will not starve: Scientists agree that toddlers do not have the capacity or willpower to let themselves starve. If they are hungry, they will eat. It is important to note that toddlers eat differently to adults. In fact, toddlers eat in a cyclic manner; eating like a horse one day and the next like a rabbit. Experiment to discover your child's natural eating pattern but continue to offer them a wide range of healthy food even when they refuse. Allowing your child to regulate their own food intake helps them to develop healthy eating patterns in life.
Over & over again: On average, parents will stop offering a food after it has been refused by their child 3-5 times. However, it is agreed that it can take 10-15 times (even up to 30) before some foods are successfully introduced.
Introduce Food at the Right Time: Avoid introducing new foods at 5-6pm when children are at their most tired. They will be less responsive to change. Time it for a few hours after breakfast or lunch when they are not overstimulated, or too tired but a little peckish. This often gives the best results
Don't Watch: It can be tempting to watch your child as they respond to new food. However, this can make them nervous. put the piece of food in front of them casually and walk away for a few min. Let them take it in, touch it, play with it.
Use a Pick-Plate: This helps a child feel more in control & interacted with food.
Avoid excess Dairy & Carbohydrates: Dairy products and carbohydrates are essential for your child's development but they can reduce the flavor of other foods on their plate. Do not use in excess.
Make it Interesting: Offer food in fun shapes, play their favorite music or story in the background, allow them to eat from a special plate with an association of something they enjoy. For example; if they love Thomas the tank engine, get a special plate.
Family Style Meal: Children show a greater tendency to try new foods when it is offered in a family style pick-and-eat fashion.
Lead by Example: Children learn by observation. If you want your child to eat more vegetables I recommend sitting with them and eating your own portion of vegetables too.
Bring in the Love: In desperation, it can be easy to want to bribe or force your child to eat food. This may work temporarily but will not be a long-term solution for fussy eating. There can be great improvements in fussy eating when a child eats as a family in a safe, loving and enjoyable environment.
No Pressure: Mealtime should be an enjoyable experience with no pressure on the quantity of food eaten. Allow your child to eat what they want from the food offered and allow them to leave what they do not want. Do not offer anything additional or special after dinner to cater for their fussy-eating.
Get Involved: Direct experience is a great way for children to learn. Invite them to help with shopping for, cooking or growing food to see first-hand where their food comes from.
Healthy Little Eaters Game: The Healthy Little Eaters board game teaches children about nutrition. Psychologist studies show that children who were read books on concepts of food or nutrition doubled their voluntary intake of vegetables.
About the Author
Storm is a Naturopath & Medical Herbalist at Functional Naturopathy.
She is passionate about helping you find the root cause for your health concerns; hormones, digestion, skin health, fertility, autoimmunity, mood, energy, anxiety and more!
She loves working with natural therapies including; herbalism, supplementation, diet, lifestyle changes and superfoods.