The second in our ‘Ask the Expert’ series is all about healthy eating for children. I’m so pleased to introduce Dr Harriet Holme, a Registered Nutritionist, who specialises in Nutrition Science, following ten years as a paediatric doctor. Here are Harriet’s top tips for dealing with fussy eating.
Fussy eating is a huge concern for parents and is associated with not just the frustration of your child refusing food that you have prepared, but also the anxiety about adequate nutrient intake.
It is reported that approximately 50% of children will go through a fussier stage between 18m to 2years, so you are not alone. There are lots of possible explanations for this:
- Around 12 months, children’s growth rate slows down and therefore their appetite decreases
- A growing sense of independence means they sometimes use food refusal as a way of asserting themselves
- They can be engrossed in learning new skills, and reluctant to stop and eat.
- Around this age children can become suspicious of new food.
My top tips to helping widen your child’s diet:
- Try to stick to a routine of set meal and snack times, offering simple healthy food.
- Offer new foods along side accepted foods, and keep offering them, as studies have shown that some toddlers need to be given a new food more than 10 times before acceptance. Try to avoid giving alternatives, as this can set up expectations next time. If you give accepted and new food together, there should always be something your child will eat.
- Be mindful of your stress, frustration and worry, instead aim to keep meal times relaxed and fun. You want to share and model a positive approach to food and mealtimes. Remove uneaten food without commenting as hard as this can be, as it removes power struggles.
- Encourage independent eating despite the mess! If you child feels in control they may well eat more. Also touching and exploring food are first steps in tasting new items.
- Praise trying even the tiny steps of accepting a new food on their plate, then smelling, touching and then liking the food if needed. A Reward Chart can be a great way of reinforcing their progress.
- Eating as a family, or with peers is a fantastic way to show your child about eating. Seeing a range of food is the first step in exploration and trying new foods. This can be why children will sometimes eat a wider range of food at nursery than at home.
- Try to involve your child in food preparation, as they can feel a greater sense of ownership and may be more inclined to eat it.
- Children’s appetite can be really variable, so try to look at the bigger picture, for example a week or a day, instead of just one meal time.
- Avoid having good/bad or reward foods that can be eaten as a ‘treat’ once you have eaten your vegetables. This can teach children that some (non-accepted) foods are bad compared with the good goal food. Instead use non-food items to incentivise behaviour and you can try presenting savoury and desert at the same time. You might think that your child will only eat desert, but they often eat a mix!
- Try to avoid the distractions of TV, screens or toys at the table while eating, as you want to teach your child to eat mindfully, enjoying the sensations of eating, and listening to signals that they are full, to reduce overeating later in life.
Try not to worry even if your child’s diet does seem very limited as most toddlers who are growing well, almost always manage to eat the right balance of nutrients needed for normal development.
Dr Harriet Holme – the Healthy Eating Dr can be contacted at https://healthyeatingdr.com/