Fussy eating is very common in children as they are developing their liking for specific tastes and textures. It is important to understand that the body has mechanisms that may lead to food refusal as a sign or symptom of other underlying health issues.
In children, the introduction of a food takes 10-15 times of tasting before the brain recognises it as a new food. Therefore it is important to keep persevering with the introduction of new foods.
Encouraging a wide variety assists in obtaining a balanced diet and prevents fussy eating behaviours continuing into adulthood. Sticking to one food for 3 days before moving onto a new food is beneficial as it allows for the child to recognise the food and understand whether or not they like it.
The introduction of semi-solids or solid foods while breast-feeding is of extreme importance. Breastfeeding up until 6 months reduces the child’s risk of allergy or intolerance.
The introduction of foods typically occurs in the following order 1) iron fortified rice cereal, 2) pureed fruit and vegetables, 3) pureed protein forms such as meat, chicken and fish.
Many young children have a diet which is dictated by texture. This can be detrimental, as children with a high preference for soft foods miss out on vital chewing practices such as gaining the strength and stamina to properly chew and breakdown foods. These children therefore also miss out on many nutrients such as fibre, iron and cobalamin as these meals require chewing to break the minerals from the protein.
Tips for your fussy eating child:
- Use sauces as a flavour bridge to encourage the introduction of new foods.
- If they won’t eat anything but white bread: using the child’s favourite fillings, place one piece of wholemeal bread on the bottom and one piece of white bread on top – this helps in the transition to wholemeal bread.
- If a tantrum begins and food is refused, remove the food without any fuss, asking the child to remove themselves from the table until they have calmed down. If they then continue to refuse to eat, permanently remove the foo. However do not replace it with an alternative. Instead place a small glass of milk on the table. Your child will not starve if they miss a few meals. What is more important is the behaviours they learn.
- Only hide foods in a meal if they would otherwise also be consumed with the meal. For example, a rissole that incorporates carrot and zucchini is beneficial as it adds nutritional value and would normally be presented alongside the plain rissole. A negative example is hiding zucchini in chocolate cake. The child recognises that eating the cake is positive behaviour as their parents are happy. This creates a false association between chocolate cake and healthy eating. Therefore next time when the child is at a party or a friend’s house, they will indulge in the cake as they believe it is a healthy food, as it tastes and looks identical to the chocolate cake with zucchini.
- Whenever you state “My child doesn’t eat …” this reinforces to the child that they are a fussy eater and reminds them they don’t like particular foods. Instead you should use language that encourages the child to eat particular foods and try a variety. For example stating “My child is really good at trying new foods” is a positive reinforcing statement that encourages the child to partake in positive dietary behaviours.