Why can babies and children be such fussy eaters?

Picky eating has several names such as choosy eating or fussy eating and can be seen in many children as a normal part of behaviour or asserting independence. It can be more of a concern for mothers from other cultures who may also worry about the differences in diet outside the home environment such as childcare or school. A fussy eater may take more time adjusting to new foods and restricted meal timings that reduce grazing on food. Studies show that the effects of cultural background on feeding children can influence fussy eating behaviours. For example, in Indian migrants coming to Australia, it has been observed that mothers who engage in pressure-feeding note higher pickiness in their children’s eating behaviours.

So, what is fussy eating? Fussy eating is when a toddler or child refuses to try a new food at least half of the time.  Some children have a fear of new tastes. From an evolutionary point of view, this may have been a survival strategy, but it can feel like a very uphill battle in the modern world. What can we do to help with fussy eating? You could always seek professional help and consult a paediatrician in Melbourne. Also, it is important to note that pressuring a child to eat will only raise the children’s anxiety about eating and more refusal is likely to occur. Meal times can feel like a dreaded time in some situations so the parent’s anxiety may well be conditioned and quite high in anticipation of the mealtime battle. Your baby or child will sense that immediately and respond with increased resistance to that stress. It is also important to check if your baby’s growth parameters are within the norm. If so, then the eating difficulties can be managed from a behavioural and sensory perspective. Children may not like the smell, colour, texture or taste of certain foods. Fussy eating is not so much about food but about exerting control over one’s environment. A prime example of this is in restricted eating disorders.

Children are quite good at recognizing when to eat and will not starve but request food or drinks that they prefer instead of the meals offered (e.g., chips, chocolate, sugary drinks, excessive milk consumption). It is important to stick to ground rules about meal times and allow a child a fixed time in which to finish their meal to avoid longer eating times, as this is regarded as a kind of fussy eating habit. Note what type of food you eat as a parent as research shows the preference of foods that mothers eat is strongly linked to children’s eating habits. Be persistent in presenting new foods until your child will try the food and start to accept it. It is important to praise and reinforce your child when a new food is trialled. This ensures that they feel rewarded by alternative behaviours and choices that are positive rather than exerting control over food. In order to encourage a fussy eater to expand their preferences make meal times as fun as possible and keep regular timings for the main meals. Invite your child to help with preparing the food, and if in doubt, Pinterest can save the day with ideas on making the weirdest and wonderful kiddie snacks and meals.

Do try and remember children are learning by testing boundaries and understanding the rules of what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. This is an important part of their developing social and emotional skills. Also, if they are not eating in childcare or school, they may be too busy playing and socializing to focus on eating. Parents find that after umpteen battles with certain foods at home, they are pleasantly surprised to find their children eating those very rice crackers and snacks with other children outside the home. On those trying days that you want to tear your hair out with your child’s complete determination not to eat what you have so painstakingly prepared- keep calm, keep breathing, and don’t give up!

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