Fussy eaters – Should we be worried?

Having a fussy eating child can be extremely stressful. As a family nutritionist I have seen many parents in tears over this issue and most of my initial consultations are spent reassuring them that they are not bad parents and have not really done anything wrong. Cue a big surge of relief being lifted from their heavily burdened shoulders.

Now, I am not a child psychologist but I have had the pleasure of helping many families with fussy eaters. The fact is that the vast majority of children do go through a fussy stage and it’s only by looking at it from a child’s perspective you can understand how best to address the issue.

Now, this may come as a big shock (given my profession) but I do not have a problem with a child missing meals, going to bed with no food and eating very little if they are developing and growing as expected.

The first important thing to understand is that a child will not starve themselves.

They only know to eat for survival and to grow and the biggest growth period for a child is during their first 12 months. After this time, however, their growth slows down and their need for food reduces accordingly. Yet, we perceive the portion size of a child to keep increasing the bigger they get which is our first mistake!

Try to understand things from a child’s perspective

Imagine you have stocked up on breakfast and a morning snack and are not feeling hungry but you know that lunch is approaching soon and you will be expected to eat. You start to feel anxious about this impending event, everything in your body is telling you that you’re full, but you are still being told that you must eat.

With this in mind it is easy to see why a child will start to act up and do anything to avoid eating, cry, clamp their mouth shut and throw a tantrum, because their body is saying I do not need any food! The knock on effect is that, as the parent, you start to stress and try any tactic that will get them to eat. The more this happens the more stressful it becomes and the more the child will react at mealtimes.

So what can you do?

My first piece of advice is to take the pressure off both the child and the parent.

Mealtimes should not be stressful for either of you. Simply take all the stress away and do not worry if your child leaves all of their meal, just accept it. Do not over feed them, give a very small portion and I mean small!

Try this for at least two weeks and note how different everyone’s stress levels are around mealtimes. Always remember that you are not alone. There are many parents who think their child is the worst eater but it is likely that your child is normal and those who seem to eat everything are the rarity!

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