There are three types of fussy eaters:
How to manage and/or avoid the first two types of fussy eating in children.
Don't restrict, this is not to be confused with restricting food. What I mean here is don't add silly rules like finishing your plate, offering the same food repeatedly until they finally eat it, dictating when and how much they eat and so on. Creating rules and restrictions, will create an unhealthy relationship with food. Focus on communication and education.
Be responsible and walk the talk: It is always the responsibility of the adult to offer quality nutrient dense foods, consume these foods themselves and demonstrate healthy eating habits. Children imitate what they see. Don't keep poor quality foods in the house, if it's not there your child is less likely to ask for it or go on a hunger strike till you cave. If a child refuses to eat have a discussion on what healthy foods they like and always have those on hand to offer or add to a meal they may not like as much. Do not give in to poor food choices just to get your child to eat, this sets a foundation to poor eating habits and food addictions. You are also teaching your child that at some point you will cave, and they will get what they want. Rarely will a child starve themselves, it may be a struggle for a few weeks but eventually they will realize the game is not going to work and they will learn to appreciate the quality food that is being offered. We have an obesity crisis in our children, teens and adults and it all stems from eating poor quality foods regularly, which often goes back to being exposed to addictive foods as a child. Food addiction is the #1 eating disorder that no one wants to talk about or acknowledge. You need to set limits to poor quality food and provide your child with a spectrum of quality nutrient dense foods despite fussiness.
Don’t fall for illogical and gimmicky trends, although children have different nutritional needs than adults they don’t require specially designed foods, child friendly foods or family friendly foods. They can eat the same healthy food we as adult eat with healthy caloric dense add ins and infants should be provided with food that is easier to manipulate and swallow. There is absolutely no reason to be making your children separate meals, this just creates more work for the parent/caregiver for absolutely no reason and this practice enables and contributes to fussiness. Children should be provided with a wide spectrum of flavours and textures as soon as appropriate.
They can eat healthy and be healthy while still enjoying their cake too! Yep let your kids enjoy the less healthy foods, but on special occasions only. What are special occasion, their birthday (not everyone else’s birthday), special celebrations such as Thanks Giving Day (not the whole weekend), going on vacation and having an exotic meal or two. You can embrace living moments at the appropriate time’s, not only is this a healthy balance it also creates a better attitude and relationship towards food and makes them appreciate these moments more. But you need to do this wisely, children under 4 years of age more than likely will not understand this concept and are developing their pallet which changes very quickly so keep their food healthy. Don’t make special occasions out of everything, don’t use food as rewards, or for comfort this leads to emotional eating patterns that will haunt them when they are adults and are hard to reverse. Choose quality but remember healthier desserts; date balls, breakfast cookies, and 3 ingredient pancakes, are still desserts and should only be consumed on special occasions. (more about clean eating desserts here)
For the stubborn child, their fussiness is all about control. Get them involved with meal decisions and meal prep, but still under the guidance of an adult who is promoting healthy nutrient dense foods. This will make them feel more in control of the situation and proud of what they are about to eat.
It is important to offer our children quality foods for their overall wellness and to establish healthy eating patterns.
Dana Clark, CNHP, CHC, CHN, CLE
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