One of the biggest complaints and stresses for parents is fussy eating and food refusal. With more than half of Australian children being described as fussy, it’s no surprise that 8 out of 10 Australian parents are concerned about their children’s eating habits. All toddlers go through a period of ‘normal’ fussy eating. It becomes problematic when:
They refuse to taste new foods 50% of the time
They eat less than 20 different foods
They exclude whole food groups from their diet.
They kick foods out their diet but don’t replace them with new foods.
Fussy eating and food refusal can occur due to a number of factors namely: internal discomfort (reflux, gastrointestinal disorders, enlarged adenoids and tonsils), even one negative experience associated with eating, oral motor difficulties, sensory difficulties and stressful environments around mealtimes. Due the fact that fussy eating can occur from multiple causes, if you are concerned about your child’s eating it is best to have them assessed.
When it comes to eating there are some tips that relate to most toddlers and children.
TRY NOT STRESS – This is something often easier said than done. Our children can pick up on our feelings of stress, which causes them to feel stressed. Stress results in an increase in the hormone Cortisol which causes a decrease in appetite.
SET ROUTINES– We all function better with routines in place and our bodies are wired to have an increase in appetite every 2 and half hours. As parents it’s our role to provide food every 2 and half hours. This translates into breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea and then dinner. With fussy eaters parents often hold back on morning and afternoon tea as they feel that it will impact on the later meals. This results in smaller intake or over eating at later meals as children stop listening to their signs of hunger. Continual snacking is also not advised as this can lay down the basis for unhealthy eating.
EAT THIS AND YOU CAN HAVE THAT! – When food rewards are used children start to value the reward food with higher regard than the healthy food. ‘Healthy foods taste bad and junk food tastes good’. All foods should be seen as equal. Research has shown that by placing a small serving ‘desert’ (fruit, yoghurt, ice cream) on the table with dinner will help neutralise foods. It has been found that children will initially eat the desert but very quickly they learn that it is present at every meal and start eating their meal first.
JUST TAKE A BITE! – Forcing children to try food can results in an increase in stress for the child. A parent’s role is to decide what foods will be offered and it’s the child’s role to decide what and how much they will eat of what has been offered. This ensures exposure to new foods without the stress of having to eat them.
Lastly, BE PATIENT!! Acquiring new tastes and changing eating habits takes time.
About the author: Mandy-Lee Adno is a SPA registered speech pathologist who specialises in and is passionate about paediatric feeding. She has written numerous articles and regularly presents to parents, collegues and associates on normal feeding development and it's difficulties. She consults at The Children's Clinic in Bondi Junction. www.sydneyfeedingspecialist.com