If you are or have ever been a parent to a child between the ages of 18 months to 5 years old, then it’s likely that you’ve experienced the stress of mealtimes. It may be as simple as refusing to try new foods, or even loving foods one day and then refusing them the next – leaving you feeling confused, worried and defeated.
As frustrating as it can be, fussy eating is a normal part of your child’s development. Refusing new or unfamiliar foods because your child is unsure whether they’re safe is known as ‘neophobia‘. When children refuse foods that they once loved, it’s often because they’re beginning to understand that they can influence the reactions of those around them. This is all part of normal behavioral development. Although fussy eating is normal, it’s also quite stressful and it’s important to put strategies into place in order to help your child develop healthy eating habits as they grow older.
When to get support for your child?
If family mealtimes have become stressful, it’s worth seeking help, even at the early stages, to prevent the development of unhealthy eating habits and further stress on the family.
If your child is refusing to eat complete food groups (fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meat or grains) they have an increased risk of developing nutritional deficiencies and complications such as:
- Constipation: Commonly refused foods, such as vegetables, fruit and wholegrains, are high in fibre. Low intake of these foods, and therefore low fibre intake, may result in constipation as well as further disinterest in food due to feeling uncomfortable. This may also impact the development of normal bathroom behaviors.
- Iron deficiency: Iron-rich foods such as red meat, wholegrains and leafy greens are commonly refused foods. Low intake may lead to symptoms including irritability, tiredness and poor growth.
- Zinc deficiency: Similar to iron, foods including wholegrains, vegetables and meat are also high in zinc. A zinc deficiency can cause a loss of taste and a decrease in appetite, which may exacerbate fussy eating habits.
- Growth faltering: Extreme prolonged fussy eating can result in faltered growth. This is monitored using a growth chart. There is no need for concern if your child continues to track along the same percentile.
What can I do?
Dealing with a fussy eater is a challenge, especially when it seems to become worse over time. We care for our children and want the best for them. However, sometimes (and very understandably) the stress gets the best of us, resulting in mealtimes becoming very unpleasant and stressful for the whole family. The best thing that you can do for your child (and your own sanity!) is to…
- Remove the pressure and create a plan of action. This article here will help get you started with some strategies.
- If you are concerned that your child may have a nutrient deficiency, see your GP and have a blood test before considering supplements.
- See an experienced dietitian to support you with planning and implementing practical and individualised strategies to overcome fussy eating habits.
There is light at the end of the fussy eating tunnel! As always with habit building, the key to success is consistency. Whatever approach you decide is best for your family, make sure that it is sustainable. For more help we recommend seeing our very own experienced paediatric dietitian, Michelle Bulman. Click here to find out more about Michelle and book an appointment online.
If you’re looking for more help with stressful family mealtimes or supporting your toddler to have a balanced intake, need some extra inspiration, or would like some individual advice on healthy eating, book in with one of the experienced dietitians at The Healthy Eating Hub or call us on 6174 4663.