Dealing with fussy eaters

Mummy I love broccoli!

Are you struggling with feeding a fussy/picky eater? Does your child refuse to try new foods?

Trying to get small folk to eat the meals that we cook for them can be frustrating, tiring and downright annoying at times! So please rest assured, you are... Definitely. Not. Alone.

First of all, it's important to remember that some food refusal is a very normal part of growing up. As babies become toddlers and grow into young children food becomes an area where they can start to exercise a little control and some will attempt to do so as often as they can.

For many children, toddlers in particular, food refusal is related to 'neophobia' a fear of trying new foods (which may be an evolutionary response left over from times gone by when it would have been sensible to avoid new foods that could have been poisonous) coupled with an element of exercising their independence over their parents. So to help ease the journey here's a few things to think about if you're having issues feeding your little (ahem!) treasures...

Exposure is key. It can take a number of times of seeing a food on their plate before your child will actually try it. The older they get the more times they might need to see the food on their plate before they decide to take the plunge. Babies may only need 2-3 times but for an 8 year old it could take up to 20! Leave the food on the plate but don't make a point of talking about it, just allow them to eat it if they want to.

Offer new foods with trusted foods. Give new foods one at a time and give them with foods you know your child enjoys. This will help to build trust in the new item whilst ensuring your child will still eat most of the meal even if they don't eat the new food.

Don't force your child to eat anything. Research shows that force feeding will leave negative feelings towards that particular food and this will make them less likely to it in the future, even into adulthood!

Eat as a family. I feel like I go on about this a LOT on the weaning course but children really do learn by example and if they sit with the rest of the family and see you eating, they're much more likely to eat well themselves.

Minimise distractions such as televisions/music; children are easily distracted and can get overwhelmed by lots going on so allow your child to concentrate on eating their meal.

 Focus on positive attention. I think that many of us are aware that any attention, positive or negative, can reinforce behaviours in children. The evidence is no different when it comes to mealtimes; if your child doesn't eat their meal just take it away and try your very hardest not to get cross! (Difficult I know, but we are trying to avoid giving any attention for the negative behaviour!). On the other hand give lots of praise if they eat well/try new things/use cutlery well etc. Turn the mealtime into an area of positive attention to encourage them to eat well.

Don't offer an alternative. Ok so this is also hard as our natural instinct is often to worry that our little ones have had enough. Offering an alternative can lead to bad habits (and a LOT of extra work for you!) if your children learn that you'll give something different if they refuse a meal. Take their meal away and if they say they are hungry later on simply heat the same meal back up - they'll learn just as quickly that it's one choice only.

Don't use food as a bribe ie. "if you eat the broccoli you can have ice cream". This will just reinforce to them that broccoli is the 'bad guy' and ice cream is the 'good guy' which is exactly what we are trying NOT to teach them. However, giving a pudding after a meal is a good opportunity to get nutrients (calories, protein, vitamins, minerals) into your child so giving one is fine even if they haven't eaten their meal. Something like fruit and natural yoghurt is a good healthy option.

Try to relax. Children are very intuitive and pick up on our moods and actions. If you are stressed at mealtimes and hovering over their every mouthful or constantly cleaning their face/the table it is likely that they will notice and it may well put them off eating even more. I wouldn't want to eat my meal with someone staring in my face and then have a wet cloth wiped across my mouth every 2 minutes and I imagine your child will be no different.

Finally, try to remember that children are individuals too and they have their own likes and dislikes whether you agree with them or not. If they genuinely hate carrots just give them something else, there are plenty of options if it's only a handful of things they don't eat. I won't eat egg mayonnaise or goats cheese no matter how many times someone tells me how delicious they are and that's fine by me, I can get through life and still eat a varied diet!

Good luck and don't forget these things; firstly this phase will hopefully pass soon and secondly if you do give your child the occasional beige dinner, DO NOT FEEL BAD you will be in very good company with almost every single other parent in this country - myself included (tonight!)

**If the above tips don't work for you and you feel that your child is experiencing more extreme fussy eating and has ongoing aversions to many foods (new and familiar) then it is always worth seeking professional advice to ensure your child is eating adequate amounts to thrive**