Children can be naturally faddy eaters but how can you cope with it?
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Certainly, children seem to be born with a pre-disposition as to whether they are ‘good’ eaters or not. Even casual observation will note some babies guzzling milk down with gusto and seeking regular comfort in the bottle or breast, whilst others just don’t seem too bothered. Sometimes, of course there are difficulties in getting a baby to take to a nipple or teat and this can be both upsetting for mother and baby alike, possibly affecting future emotions with eating, but at other times children may just appear faddy.
Experimenting with Food
As children grow, they develop habits and choices which can be frustrating for parents. For reasons difficult to fathom, some children ‘go off’ certain foods. They start saying ‘no’ to foods they were until then, quite happy to eat or refusing to eat properly at mealtimes.
Of course there can be any number of factors associated with changing behaviour and it would be difficult to put faddy eating down to any one specific thing; however, as children develop, they are designed to explore their surroundings, to push boundaries and to experiment with the control they have over certain functions. At its most basic, tastes can change or the same foods can become dull and so the easiest thing for parents to try is to introduce different types, textures and colours of food to vary their child’s menu as much as possible. This prevents boredom and allows the child to experience different interesting taste sensations.
Mealtimes can also be very much about the parental agenda. Whilst Mum and Dad have a schedule to stick to, young children are often unaware of time-scales in the same way and certainly don’t understand the pressing commitments of others. Just because breakfast needs to be eaten at 7.00am, doesn’t mean that a child’s body clock has synchronised with yours, and they may just not be hungry yet. Instead of forcing a child to eat, merely offer the food a bit later and/or inform their carer.
Set Meal Times
As children grow older, they do need to learn, however, that there should be set meal-times when food is on offer and that this is the time for them to eat. Hugely important to this learning curve, is for the child to be given clear signals of what mealtimes entail.
As far as possible, breakfast, lunch and dinner (and any small, set snacks in-between) should be prepared for the same time each day with clear signposting of when the meal will happen. For instance, “Let’s wash hands for breakfast”, “Breakfast will be ready in 5 minutes”, “Let’s sit down so that we’re ready for breakfast” and so on. ‘Labelling’ in this way, imprints for the child a specific event, expectations of what to do to prepare and allows the brain to send signals around the body to prepare to eat.
Another thing to establish as early and as regularly as is possible, is that meals are eaten around a table with other members of the family. This begins to establish not only that mealtimes are about nourishing the body but are also about nourishing relationships. It is a time when the family can come together and has the opportunity to share food and discuss issues.
Of course a young child may not fully understand the subtleties of this approach, but it is nevertheless where they learn good table manners and eating habits. If their meal-times are haphazard or taken in front of the TV whilst siblings, Mum and Dad are doing something else, it becomes a solitary, disordered affair. Children are much less likely to become faddy eaters if they are merely mimicking what everyone else around the table is doing normally.
If a child begins to behave badly at table or they say they don’t want to eat something, after reasonable attempts at persuasion, quickly set out the rules for the child. i.e. if they don’t wish to eat the food that has been prepared for them, that is fine, but they won’t have anything else until the next meal. Give the child a limited number of chances or a time limit by which they must have made their choice and then quietly clear the meal away. Do not give in to tantrums, tears or pleading, and stick to your rule. The worst thing a parent can do is then to allow the child to pick the food they want later (usually junk snack foods such as crisps and biscuits), when they say they have become hungry. If this is allowed, the child will have learned to manipulate the situation and will exercise their power over it more and more often.
Children Won’t Miss Meals for Long
A child will never normally go hungry to the extent that they are in danger. If a child refuses their main meal, they can quite happily survive until the next is offered. As long as the parent is the more strong-willed of the two parties, soon enough the child will forget being faddy and eat what is put in front of them when they are hungry enough.
Food as a Battleground
If this parental policy is put in practice early on, it will help to reduce the arguments as the children get older and stop food becoming a battleground. This is particularly important when kids reach their volatile teenage years. This is when hormones run wild, emotions run high and the patience of parents can run out! Boys start eating twice as much and the effort needed will be for parents to get them to eat a balanced, healthy diet to control craving and the worst of the spots. Girls come under intense peer pressure and this is when more sinister types of fussy eating can creep in and erratic behaviour patterns with food can begin. As a parent or guardian, make sure that older children understand what is happening to their bodies and the consequences of eating disorders such as binge eating and anorexia.
Good Food and Good Company
If you are able to keep mealtimes through teenage years a secure time when children know they can discuss any problems and ideas can be exchanged and if you can weather the storm of their highs and lows during this stressful time, your once faddy eaters should develop into wonderful people for whom home and mealtimes mean love and good food.