The Fussy Eaters: Why & How To Prevent It From Happening
Food & Nutrition
There is no single widely accepted definition of fussy eating. It is commonly understood as some sort of challenge during feeding because the child only eats a limited amount of food, has strong food preferences, has restricted intake and/or is unwilling to try new food.
Parents generally panic as they tend to worry that their child may not be getting enough nutrition and will hinder their growth.
Why do children exhibit such behaviour?
Majority of young fussy eaters exhibit refusal for food as they are experiencing ways to assert their independence or to gain attention from their parents and caregivers as they grow up. While such instances are very common in children, it is important to understand why a child is reacting negatively towards food, especially in their toddler and preschool years.
Dr Martha Liu, Paediatrician, SBCC Baby & Child Clinic, said: “Factors such as parental practices/feeding styles, including parental control, pressure to eat, social influences, personality factors, underlying medical condition and others may contribute to the development of picky eating.”
Symptoms which show that your child is most probably a fussy eater:
Over 20-30 minutes are needed per mealtime
Mealtimes are always difficult, tiring and/or not enjoyable
Child has to be force-fed
Television, toys or videos are needed to distract the child and pacify them to eat
Child tends to avoid specific food or some foods from a particular texture
Child will throw tantrums
“Whether or not children outgrow this phase on their own depends on each individual child. If a child is purely a fussy eater without any underlying medical or behavioural condition, she/he has a good chance of outgrowing this phase. If a child has underlying medical or behavioural condition, I would suggest that parents seek consultation from a paediatrician on this,” explained Dr Liu.
While it can be to parents’ favour if their child insists on only eating a certain type of food, it is recommended to offer new food together with the food that your child likes and encourage him/her to try the new food first.
How to prevent children from becoming fussy eaters?
There is no definite method to prevent children from becoming fussy eaters but there are some standards parents can put in place as a routine to possibly help reduce the chances of it:
Have a fixed routine and structure such as eating at the table and eating together as a family
Build a positive atmosphere during meal times
Do not panic and do not start lecturing when the child refuses
Be patient and calm throughout meal times
Always have one preferred dish among the variety of food
Keep the child strapped in a booster or high chair until the age of 3 to prevent them from getting down and running away during meal times
Change presentation of food from time to time to avoid repetition
Avoid giving snacks or drinks an hour before the main meals
What should toddlers/pre-schoolers eat to ensure they have a varied / balanced diet?
Children at different stages of life have different needs. As toddlers are still at the stage of rapidly growing and being extremely active, they may require more calories and nutrients.
Suggestions to help ensure that your child has a balanced diet:
Have a diet based on combing foods from the 5 food groups.
Nutrients in a balanced diet comprise of protein, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals, omega 3 and 6 fats and fibre.
Give a mixture of white and some wholemeal/wholegrain breads and cereals
Serve starchy foods, fruits and vegetables at each meal
Include milk, cheese and yoghurt in the diet
Limit cake, puddings and biscuits to one small serving per day
Serve water in between meals and snacks
Give very small amounts of food that contain high fat or sugar
Examples of feeding misconceptions that parents may have:
1. Misconception: “Healthy meals have to be ‘proper’ meals consisting of rice.”
Alternatives: Carbohydrates such as noodles, pasta, potatoes, bread can be consumed instead of rice.
2. Misconception: “Healthy meals have to be cooked without adding any oil.”
Alternatives: As long as heathy oil is used, such as olive, canola, rice bran, sunflower, sesame, peanut, corn, parents can add oil to pan-fry or stir-fry foods rather than boiling everything in a soup.
3. Misconception: “Fruit juice is just as nutritious as fresh fruit.”
Alternatives: For children above 1 year of age, 100% fruit juice can be given as ½ of the fruit recommendations, but it is still best to give fresh fruit as it contains fibre. Fibre is important for regular bowel movements, and also for satiety and weight control. Excessive juice consumption is also associated with diarrhoea, flatulence, abdominal distention, tooth decay and metabolic disease.
Dr Martha Liu
SBCC Baby & Child Clinic
This article is brought to you by Healthway Medical.