Dealing with Fussy eaters

Has meal time turned into a tug ‘o war match with your child? Are you having strategy meetings with your husband and other parents to try and figure out how to get your 3 year old to love vegetables? Are you completely confused as to how your child can go from loving carrots the one week to hating them the next? Or feeding your child in weird places like the bathroom, just because he thinks it’s fun to eat watermelon while he has a bubble bath? In this blog post I hope to equip you with some weapons which will help you win this food war once and for all.

What is a fussy eater?

As adults it is our responsibility to teach children how to eat as the habits they develop as children will be carried with them as they grow and become adults. Therefore it is critical that we model balanced, healthy eating as children learn from watching others. Before you classify your child as a fussy eater it is important to know what a picky eater is and what normal eating behaviour is. It is normal for a child to be afraid of a new food. This is called neophobia and can be overcome if you repeatedly expose your child to the food so that it becomes familiar to them. It is also normal for a child to eat one specific food, love it, and then not want to eat it again. This is called food jag and is the body’s way to ensure that the child eats a variety of foods. Keep offering the food to your child and eating the food yourself. Do not force the child to eat the food though.

“Picky eaters are children who consume an inadequate variety of foods through rejection of substantial amounts of food” (Dovey et al 2007).This often occurs as the child wishes to control his/her parents and is wanting to test limits. He/she is turning food into a power struggle. If this is however not the case, then the child may be overly sensitive to a certain taste or smell.

How to treat a fussy eater

  1. Don’t make a fuss if your child doesn’t want to eat. If they don’t want to eat supper for example, don’t offer them something else. Let them go to bed on an empty stomach if need be.
  2. Involve your child in the buying and preparing of meals. Use this time to teach them about the different foods.
  3. Do not ask your child what he/she wants to eat, rather give them 2 or 3 options for them to choose from.  Alternatively draw up a week meal plan as a family and once the meals are decided they are fixed, therefore avoiding short order cooking.
  4. Be firm and consistent to avoid power struggles. You could include one food that the fussy eater will eat but not in an obvious way so that the child doesn’t think you made this meal especially for him and his fussiness has “paid” off.Instead incorporate the food item into a dish that you are already making e.g your fussy eater will only eat apples, therefore you can try to include the apples in a salad.

What strategies have you found to work when dealing with your fussy eater? Leave a comment below

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