Picky eating. Fussy eating.
They are both poorly-defined, catch-all terms that span toddlers who subsist solely on potato chips and bottles of formula, to kids whose only sin is to shirk the green vegetable on their dinner plate.
The first rule when you have a picky eater should be: don’t panic!
Most of us were fussy eaters to some extent during our toddler years. I distinctly remember disliking avocado (slimy!) and sweet potato as a child, both foods I now love. I refused to eat fatty spreads (butter and margarine) on my sandwiches or toast until my early 20s, and there was a time as a child where I insisted on eating my sliced carrot raw and my peas frozen.
Can you remember any foods that you didn’t like as a child? Are there some foods you still don’t like now? I still can’t stomach any chewy, sinewy or fatty bits in meat to this day.
What many of us don’t realise, as parents, is that our own preferences are accommodated and less visible because we are the ones who do the food shopping. If we don’t like it, we don’t buy it. No one puts it on our plate and expects us to eat it!
Sometimes, parents’ good intentions can backfire and exacerbate their picky eater’s habits. Children are all different, and the picky eaters among them are no exception. Here are my 4 top tips for parents of fussy eaters.
4 tips for parents of fussy eaters
1. Don’t panic!
It’s natural for toddlers to go through a picky period. It’s also natural for most of them to grow out of it. Some of them don’t – many of us know or live with an adult who is a picky eater. If you are genuinely concerned that your child’s diet is inadequate and they may have a nutritional deficiency, see a registered dietitian.
2. Exposure is the key to solving most picky eating problems.
Ensure your child is regularly served a variety of the foods you wish them to learn to eat. Eating meals with your child, where they see YOU eating those foods is also very important.
3. Don’t resort to the bottle – the milk bottle, that is!
Allowing your picky eater to consume a large part of their daily nutrient intake as bland, easy-to-drink formula or milk will only reinforce their refusal of food. They learn to wait for the bottle. If your child has a nutritional deficiency and takes a supplement or formula on dietitian’s advice, make sure to ask how they will work with you and your child to gradually replace the formula with a balanced diet.
4. Rule out any underlying causes for your child’s picky eating
Some children have issues with oral-motor skills that might make it hard to chew, manipulate and swallow certain foods. Others have oral sensitivity issues where they are over or under-sensitive to certain food textures. Dental pain can result in avoidance of some foods – teething, tooth alignment or even decay are all potential causes. If you suspect that any of these might be factors in your child’s picky eating, you may wish to investigate further with the help of a speech pathologist, occupational therapist or the family dentist.