Fussy eating is very common in young children, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating to deal with.
It comes in many forms. Some children have an aversion to certain kinds of food due to their taste or texture. (Bitter and slimy foods are popular enemies.) Other children are wary of things they haven’t tried. And for some, fussy eating is more of a battle of wills, an attempt to establish independence.
Fussy eating tends to peak between the ages of two and six. The good news is that in nearly all cases children will grow beyond this phase naturally. Hang in there! But if you’re the parent of a fussy eater, it’s worth being aware of the possible impacts.
The impacts of fussy eating
Throughout infancy and childhood, your child’s brain and body are developing at an incredible rate. This amazing growth is fuelled by the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in your child’s diet.
Fussy eating can reduce the variety of your child’s diet during these vital years, leading to less than adequate nutritional intake.
This lack of adequate nutitional intake can impact areas of general health such as:
- Decreased energy levels
- Decreased cognitive function
- Weakened immune function
- Poor growth and development
Other common traits of fussy eaters – such as a preference for grazing instead of regular meals, and favouring sweets over more nutritious foods – just compound the problem.
Longer term nutritional inadequacy in early childhood can lead to other health problems later in life.
Of course, the problems are more than just nutritional. Fussy eating causes stress and worry to both child and parents. And there’s a time tax too. Think of all the hours spent trying to coax your fussy eater into sampling a new food, or all those special meals you’ve cooked only to get the thumbs-down from your child.
But take heart – there are a number of ways you can tackle the problem.
Tips to help with fussy eating
It bears repeating: fussy eaters grow out of it. There’s an end in sight.
In the meantime, here are some tips to help combat fussy eating behaviours, and to ensure your child is receiving the required nutritional intake during these fussy years.
> Keep it casual – Dealing with a fussy eater can be extremely tiring and stressful, but the best way to encourage good eating is to keep a light, casual tone. And remember, ultimatums are counterproductive. If your child rejects a food, no problem, try another time.
> Create a routine – Modern life is hectic, but a lack of mealtime structure can encourage fussy eating. Set up a firm routine, and avoid distractions such as television or mobile phones during meals.
> Offer choices – Some fussy eaters respond well to being offered a choice between two meal options.
> Mix the new with the familiar – Novel foods are less scary when they’re served alongside old friends. And don’t give up on the first try – it can take multiple exposures before a child begins to like it.
> Fortify old favourites – Once your child likes a food, think of ways to boost its nutritional value (e.g. by adding in grated vegetable).
> Provide positive feedback – Celebrate every victory, even the small wins.
You many also choose to top up your child’s nutritional intake with supplements. Vitamin supplements can be used to provide additional nutritional support. Look for broad-range multivitamin supplements for general health and wellbeing, or use targeted supplements to address specific nutritional needs.
So don’t feel overwhelmed – you can implement a number of routine, eating and behavioural changes into your child’s life to assist with their fussy eating. And you can consider supplements as a way to provide additional nutritional support.