Is your child a fussy eater? Top tips to help

Fussy eating during childhood seems to be prevalent in many countries.  Apart from the serious question of how selective eating might affect a child’s health and development, difficult mealtimes takes a toll on the whole family.  Picky eating might be considered normal during the toddler years but becomes a real issue when it extends into school years.

A recent study from USC, the University of South Australia, and the University of Queensland is providing a better understanding of factors influencing fussy eating, and what is more likely to increase or decrease picky eating in children under 10 years.

The research found that a range of factors contributed to a child’s likelihood of being a fussy eater. Pressuring a child to eat, offering rewards for eating and very strict parenting all negatively influenced fussy eaters. On the other hand, a more relaxed parenting style, eating together as a family, and involving a child in the preparation if food all reduced the likelihood of fussy eating.

“Some families have kids who turn their noses up at any vegetable. Others are dealing with kids who dislike certain textures or colours of food,” said lead researcher, Laine Chilman.

She added, “Some of these preferences relate to a child’s characteristics or personality, which are difficult to change, if at all. But others are external factors that could help reduce fussy eating in kids.”

“Eating together as a family, with siblings, and having a single meal at a regular time all helped reduce food fussiness. As did getting the fussy child involved in the meal, either by helping to choose the menu, or helping to prepare the meal.”

“Yet if fussy eaters were allowed to eat in front of the TV, or if they were rewarded for eating certain foods, these behaviours negatively influenced picky children.”

University of South Australia researcher Dr. Ann Kennedy-Behr says stress can contribute to fussy eating.

“When you have a child who is a picky eater, it’s very stressful for a parent or carer—they’re forever questioning whether their child is getting enough nutrients, enough food, and often enough weight gain,” Dr. Kennedy-Behr says.

“Yet it’s important to understand that being overtly anxious or worried can actually contribute to increased picky eating.”

“Avoiding getting cross and limiting any negativity around mealtime will be benefit everyone.”

“Positive parenting, no matter how difficult it can be in certain situations, is the best step forward for fussy eaters.”

Top tips to help a fussy eater

  1. Set a good example: a family that eats together has better eating habits
  2. Schedule regular mealtimes: regular mealtimes reduce levels of stress.
  3. Get kids involved with food preparation: familiarity and a sense of control can help
  4. Try to have one mealtime: a separate kids’ sitting encourages fussy eating
  5. Turn the TV off: focus on food, not on screens
  6. Try to keep mealtimes calm and stress free: will be a better experience for all.
  7. Remove rewards or bribes or punishments for fussy eaters.





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