Fussy Eaters – Taking the fuss out of mealtimes
Fussy Eaters – Taking the fuss out of mealtimes!
Written by Christine Sorbello, Dietitian/Nutritionist
Fussy Eaters and mealtime misbehaviour are common in children and extremely frustrating for parents. While it can be tempting to give in to these demands, if the problems are not addressed children can be at risk of developing health problems such as nutritional imbalances, constipation, iron deficiency anaemia, failure to thrive and obesity.
Common fussy eating behaviours:
Not eating enough (or perceptions that their not eating enough)
Playing with food
Eating very slowly
Refusing to use cutlery
Leaving table during meals
Fighting at the table
Tips for managing fussy eating behaviours:
Firstly, you need to accept that some amount of fussy eating behaviour is going to happen as your child learns to explore food – it’s normal. How you manage that fussy eating is what is going to impact on the length of this behaviour, the food habits they learn and, in the short term, how enjoyable your meals are!
A good rule of thumb is to think about the Division of Responsibility in Feeding
Then re-evaluate your own expectations. Remembering:
– It is OK for children to make some mess while learning to eat. Give them the opportunity to use utensils but fingers are fine in the first few years.
– After the age of one children’s appetites (and growth) decrease so they may not be as hungry as previously
– Children’s appetites can change from day to day eating very little one day to a lot with the next. Go with your child’s appetite allowing them to eat more or less as they feel
– When evaluating your child’s intake, look across a whole week rather than just a single day or meal as appetites, food behaviours and the foods on offer will vary.
Here are some tips to try overcoming fussy eating while keeping everyone fed and sane:
Allow children to assist in meal preparation. Give them jobs to match their age and skill – it might just be putting lettuce in a bowl, measuring out ingredients, grating, stirring or breaking eggs. Older children may be able to independently make simple meals
Verbally reward positive eating behaviour while trying not to give too much attention to bad behaviours
Avoid using unhealthy foods as treats or rewards e.g. getting dessert for eating your vegies
Avoid giving your child unhealthy foods “just so they eat something” this will reinforce the food refusal and can lead to health issues. Children generally will not starve themselves. Re-offer the food a bit later or wait until the next meal
Offer children each of the different foods making up the meal. Even if they haven’t eaten a particular food in the past this may be the time they try it. Research has shown that it may take between 10 and 30 times for a child to try a new food
Don’t force children to eat or try something. “Just one more bite” comments can lead to arguments, stubborn avoidance and also teach kids to ignore their fullness cues.
Try not to offer too many new foods at once
Try to avoid transferring your own dislikes on to your kids. Give them opportunities to try foods that you dislike and avoid saying things like “yuck” or “I won’t eat that” around your kids
Set a realistic time limit on meals and remind children there will be no more food once meal time is over
Regular snack times are good but don’t have free reign on snacks or snack too close to meals and this will reduce appetite. This includes drinks too (with the exception of water)
Tips & strategies for a healthy mealtime environment
It is a good idea to set up a mealtime routine for your family. Children are less likely to misbehave if there is a predictable and consistent environment. Some things you might like to include in your mealtime routine are:
Meals and snacks at a consistent time each day
Eat together as a family wherever possible
Whole family to eat the same meal. It is not necessary to provide children with something different. Eating the same food will encourage children to try new things and mean less work for you
Avoid distractions – clear the table of paperwork/homework, toys, etc; turn off the TV; don’t bring mobile devices to the table
Set the table (or better yet get the kids to do this)
Other resources you might find useful:
Satter, E. (2012) http://www.ellynsatter.com/ellyn-satters-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding-i-80.html, accessed 24.01.13.