Guest Post by Dr Netali Levi, Chartered Clinical Psychologist Mealtimes are supposed to be enjoyable, but with children who are ‘fussy eaters’ they can feel exhausting and frustrating for everyone. “I don’t like that food, I’m not going to eat it!” “Just try it.” “No!!!” How often does this exchange occur at mealtimes across the country? Mealtimes are supposed to be enjoyable, but with children who are ‘fussy eaters’ they can feel exhausting and frustrating for everyone. There’s no time like the present to work on these difficulties, so read on for some tips and ideas you can start putting into place today.
Find Out Why Your Child Is Being Fussy
There are many reasons why a child can be fussy about eating and the first step is to identify these. Spend a week monitoring your child’s eating patterns with a diary. Do they become hungry at particular times? Are they filling up on snacks in between meals, so are less hungry at mealtimes?
Are they eating adequate calories over the whole week? Have they got stressful associations about eating, or are they gaining some form of attention through fussy eating? Working out what is influencing their eating will help you come up with the right plan to help them.
Try Some Changes
Once you’ve identified the areas which need to be worked on, start making changes. Here are some suggestions:
- Try to follow a set meal and snack schedule to help your child regulate their hunger levels and learn they have to eat enough at mealtimes.
- Limit mealtimes to 20-30 minutes, so your child is responsible for eating during this time period and a stressful mealtime doesn’t drag on and on.
- Give small portions so as not to overwhelm your child and let your child decide how much they need to eat, bearing in mind that the set snack and meal schedule is aiming to regulate their appetite.
- Try not to get stressed, threaten or bribe your child if they refuse to try a food, as this can turn mealtimes into a power struggle. It’s crucial to make mealtimes as enjoyable and relaxed as possible and to model a non-fussy relationship with food yourself.
Remember It Takes Time: Be Patient
It’s important to reduce the negative food associations your child may have and build their confidence in trying new foods, gradually. A first step could be them playing with food outside of mealtimes, trying one spoonful or just tolerating some food they do not like on their plate, even if they don’t eat it. Encourage your child to try foods with different tastes and textures in a relaxed, calm way. Remember you may have to offer a new food between 10-20 times before your child accepts it (though they may never like certain foods). Finally, try to reward good eating behaviours such as staying seated and table manners, rather than focusing on eating. Good luck! Remember that change is often gradual and focus on any progress your child has made. For lots of free resources and a detailed ‘back on track’ eating programme, check out www.fussyeaters.co.uk
Dr Netali Levi is a Chartered Clinical Psychologist who works with children who are fussy eaters and their parents. This article was supplied by PaediaSure Shake. * If your child is continuously fussy, their eating issues are due to medical problems or you are very concerned about your child's eating habits, you should contact your GP for more advice and support.