There is an age of ‘typical’ fussy eating? Really? Yes, there is… Somewhere between about 18 months and about 3 years most toddlers will enter a fussy eating ‘phase’.
Researchers have found that children do go through a period of typical food fussiness, which some have dubbed food ‘neophobia’ or a ‘fear of new foods’. At around the same time children are also going through other fads, such as requesting the same story or DVD over and over again. Food is just the same. Children tend to choose a few ‘favourite’ foods and unfortunately for most parents these rarely include a variety of fruit and vegetables. Like all fads, though this one will pass – the trick is to avoid making a big deal of it.
Did you know that at about the same time children start their fussy eating tendencies, they are also:
- Slowing down from their very rapid growth phase that happened during their first 12 months of life?
- Just learning to speak in phrases and sentences?
- Learning new words by the day?
- Going through other fads (e.g. favourite book, favourite shirt, favourite DVD)?
- Still developing their chewing skills to cope with hard and fibrous foods?
It is confusing for parents because most children have happily wolfed down whatever was on offer and gone back looking for more. Over the first 12 months of life children grow very rapidly. But if they kept growing at this rate they would be size of trees! By the second year growth naturally slows. Some parents feel like their children are living on fresh air. To help put your mind at ease look at your child’s eating patterns over the course of a week rather than over a day and write down what they have eaten. Some lighter days will most likely be balanced out by big eating days. If you are still concerned see your GP or paediatric dietitian.
Teach children how to try new foods.
Just as we learn to walk and ride a bike, we also learn to try new foods. Think about the last time you were offered a food you had not tried before. Few of us leap in and pop the whole lot into our mouths. We feel it, and smell it and perhaps take a small nibble. Children are the same. Be sure to provide plenty of praise and cuddles when your child even tries something new. It takes 10-15 times before they stop thinking of it as ‘new and strange’. Those 10-15 times do not all happen on the same day either. They should be spread over a couple of months, little and often.
Don’t stop putting new food on their plates!
By all means include one of their favourite foods, but continue to serve up one meal for the family. Encourage children to try the new food, with lots of praise when they do. They are still developing those chewing muscles and it might take a while till they’re up to speed.
The language barrier is another issue. Children are just learning the language – they don’t have all the words we do and likely can’t visualise the food when we say ‘do you want fish and veggies tonight?’ ‘No’ is a much safer answer than ‘yes’!
– this article was kindly supplied by Dr Julie Cichero, Deglutitionist and Speech Pathologist, and co-author of “More Peas Please” a guide to feeding fussy eaters