Fussy eating is something that seems to bother many, many families. We hear families talk about this difficult topic all the time. So if you’re dealing with a little fussy foodie, you’re certainly not alone.
We don’t really have an official definition for what constitutes a “fussy eater” as behaviours around food are likely to vary hugely from child to child and also what one family perceives as “fussy” might be completely different from another family’s perception. This makes researching this topic hard, and currently defining specific fussy behaviours varies from study to study. However, research seems to suggest that around 50% of children will go through fussy phases at some point in their early childhood.
If you’re finding mealtimes a battle, if you’re little one is fussy about the colour, textures or tastes of their meals, if meals are regularly refused or if whole food groups or multiple foods aren’t ever eaten and this is going on for a period of time, it might be time to try and knock fussy eating on it’s head a little.
Why we shouldn’t label kids fussy
It’s so important not to label kids as “fussy eaters” too early and it’s even more important not to openly discuss their fussy eating behaviours in front of them or tell them they are fussy – this is likely to actually reinforce the behaviour and make children believe they really are “fussy” when sometimes it may be just a phase. Ups and downs with appetite are completely normal & children may just be communicating specific likes and dislikes on various days.
Why do young children go through a fussy phase, and when does it peak?
Fussy eating can occur in little ones at any time, but it tends to be most common around 18m-3 years of age and it can be really tough for families to know HOW to deal with it. Although fussy behaviour around food can happen for a number of reasons, including genetics, environment, learned behaviour, copying role models – for example – there are many ways you can help to keep it as just a phase, fleeting rather than prolonged.
It’s common for children to be a bit more wary of the foods they are eating as they start to develop a bit more independence around eating and when they are more able to move around on their own and so food refusal can be a very normal part of their development. Understanding this and trying to just gently show children WHAT and HOW to eat (largely by role modelling) is really key.
Below are some top tips for coping with fussy eating, please remember that if you’re really worried about you’re little ones behaviour, growth, energy, health is affected be sure to see a doctor – this is not a replacement for medical advice
TOP TIPS TO HELP NAVIGATE A FUSSY PHASE
- Eat together and role model what eating a balanced diet actually is – they will pick up on this eventually and it can make all the difference in the world
- Expose little ones to a variety of foods – seeing, smelling, touching foods and even reading about them all counts as exposures which helps to build your little ones familiarity and therefore acceptance. The more variety you offer them now the more they are likely to eat as they get older.
- Avoid pressure at mealtimes – simply put this is likely to backfire and leave your little one refusing more. Try to keep calm and carry on!
- Ensure a good mealtime routine – this helps children know when to expect meals and snacks throughout the day which, therefore, allows them to build up appropriate levels of hunger. Irregular eating patterns can result in children not recognising signals for hunger and can additionally result in children filling up on in-appropriate foods in-between meals. A regular feeding routine of around three main meals and two to three healthy snacks is recommended each day for children over one
- Avoid lists of food they won’t eat and keep offering foods that are refused - it can take 10 times before some novel foods are accepted
- Don’t offer alternatives – this can be the most difficult advice to follow but it is also one of the most important tips for dealing with fussy eating. When foods are refused, and alternatives offered, this gives children the impression that the choice at mealtimes is their own and that as long as they continue to refuse foods, they will eventually get what they want
- Encourage self-feeding – children should be encouraged to start feeding themselves from around seven months of age. This can help to encourage eating and also help children to learn when they are full or when they want more food
- Ignore unwanted behaviours - ensure you don’t give fussy eaters extra attention for the behaviours you want to stop and instead, focus your attention on the behaviour you want to see more often. Offer praise to other family members who eat well or if your fussy eater takes a spoonful then give them the attention they deserve
Please remember that if you’re really worried about your little ones behaviour, or their growth, energy, health is affected be sure to see a doctor – these tips are not a replacement for medical advice.