By Charlotte Reed, Health Promotion Nutritionist
Feeding your children can sometimes be tricky. Especially when you have produced a delicious, healthy dinner only to have your little ones turn their noses up and refuse to eat it! Children who display this behaviour regularly or over a long period of time are sometimes referred to as ‘fussy eaters’. Fussy eating is completely normal and is a stage that many children go through.
Fussy eating often happens around two to five years of age. This can be a really difficult time for parents, however to help parents cope and to ensure it’s just a ‘phase’ we have some clever techniques and tips to help you get your little one eating well again:
- Ensure your child is not filling up on too much milk. Milk is a food and around 300-360 mls of milk is all that children over one years of age need each day. Even less is needed if they are eating other dairy foods such as cheese or yoghurt too.
- Encourage a routine around mealtimes to allow your children to recognise signs of hunger and signs of fullness. This also helps them to learn when they should expect food.
- Avoid offering alternatives at mealtimes, even if what you’ve offered initially has been refused.
- Offer plenty of variety from a young age to allow children to get used to different tastes, textures and flavours. Familiarisation is key when encouraging children to enjoy a variety of foods.
- Be persistent and continue to offer foods, even ones that you’re children appear not to like. It can take up to 15 times before children accept a new food.
- Try offering new foods alongside foods your children already enjoy and try to only offer small amounts of foods children are unfamiliar with.
- Offer small portions to any fussy children so as not to overwhelm them with too much on their plate. Remember to offer ‘me sized meals’ and that children need much less food than adults. Find out more about portion sizes for children and get new cost effective recipes the whole family can try in the eating well recipe book.
- Be consistent – ask family members to also follow your rules around offering food, mealtime structures etc, to ensure you’re children get a consistent message.
- Try to involve children in the whole food experience including taking them shopping, helping you to cook/ prepare foods and helping you lay the table.
- Talk to your children about foods, including where food comes from, why it’s good for you and the importance of healthy eating.
- Role model! If your child doesn’t see you eating well and enjoying a variety of foods they are unlikely to want to eat a variety themselves.
Researchers at Loughborough University have developed a handy website and mobile app for parents who are struggling with their child’s feeding and fussy eating behaviours.
This guide provides more details on topics such as food refusal, common pitfalls and child wellbeing. It also offers tools that can be used to assess, monitor, and review child feeding problems over time and so is a great way to take back some control and work out where you need to make changes to your child’s eating. For more information and support visit the website or download their mobile app for support on the move.