Five reasons why children might be ‘fussy’ eaters and how to encourage ‘trying’.
If your child is a picky eater and often refuses to eat certain foods, you’re not alone. Research shows that some children need to be served foods as many as 15 times before they decide that they like something, and many parents understandably struggle to fight this long battle as it requires time, space and patience – not something that’s always available.
A good parental goal is to encourage exploration of new foods without fear, and to avoid stress and ongoing arguments around meals and food. It can be worrying if your child won’t eat certain foods, but, try to remember that it's common for toddlers, in particular, not to eat well for at least one meal a day and there are many reasons why this is the case. We take a look at a few below:
Fears and Dislikes
Everything that children do throughout their day is a learning process and trying something new can be worrying for a child. Think of how you respond to trying something new - do you feel anxious, nervous or fearful?
This is how a child can feel hundreds of times a day. Colours or textures can put children off - they might find the food is slippery, slimy or lumpy, or it might be that it smells funny, it’s bitter or sour. They may dislike the sight of foods mixed together on the same plate, especially if they are foods they haven’t yet grown to like.
A child's focus is easily diverted and multi-tasking is tough because they put so much attention into each individual task while they are learning. Try to maintain their focus on the task of eating. If there are distractions, such as a TV screen in their line of sight, turn it off or turn your child away from the distraction.
Your child will learn from the role models around them, whether that’s their siblings, parents, friends or others. If you or siblings refuse certain foods, you can expect your child to similarly decline them.
Control and Attention
It’s natural for children to push the boundaries, and early learning includes discovering what you can and can’t get away with. If your child is refusing to eat a certain food, throws it on the floor or cries - as hard as it may be - try to remain calm, the way you respond can make a big difference.
Referring to biscuits as ‘yummy’ or ‘treats’ and carrots as ‘healthy’ can send your child the message that vegetables don’t taste as good and are something we ‘have’ to eat.
Remember, if your child is being ‘picky’ and refuses to eat anything but bananas, they won’t live on bananas forever! Children often eat one type of food for a period of time and then switch to another when they find something else they like.
There will always be some foods that they will genuinely not like, but that’s okay, simply find an alternative and try again at a later date. It’s important to keep offering a variety of foods and encouraging their interests.