Fussy Eaters and how to help.

Where do you start if your child is a fussy eater?

We have all been worried at one time or another about what our children eat - or don't eat. The problem is, all the worry and stress that your feeling will be picked up by your child. Then eating could become a battle of wills.

First of all you need to try and set up a NO PRESSURE environment when it comes to all matters relating to food. 

There might be a reason your child is refusing to eat. Let's have a look at what some of those reasons might be.

1. Medical - 

Sometimes this is overlooked or not thought about deeply enough. When your child is unwell or there is an on-going medical condition then this could affect how and when they eat.

It's not common for growing children to refuse to eat food for long periods of time. Children normally will be hungry every few hours, and refusing to eat could be a sign of an underlying medical problem, and not just their own little power struggle to see who can hold out the longest. If you are at all worried about your child refusing food for long periods of time then speak to your doctors to get advice for an evaluation.

There could be many possible causes for a child refusing to eat: 

Some of these causes include:

A virus – A child with a normally good appetite who suddenly refuses to eat could be a child who's coming down with a stomach bug. If this is the reason, it should become obvious pretty quickly.

Constipation – A child who is constipated may stop eating and may be unable to explain why.

Eosinophilic esophagitis – This hard-to-pronounce condition is caused by a buildup of a particular type of immune system cell in your child's esophagus (potentially due to food allergies/sensitivities or acid reflux). Eosinophilic esophagitis can cause the throat to become so swollen and raw that is it extremely painful to eat.

Anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders – Although most people consider this a problem for teens, anorexia nervosa has been identified in children as young as six or seven.

Food sensitivity - Sometimes there is a food sensitivity such as celiac disease (a reaction to the protein gluten, found in wheat, barley, and rye) that makes it uncomfortable or even painful for your child to eat.

Another underlying medical condition – Many diseases that affect the kidneys, liver, or entire body can cause a loss of appetite in children.

But what if your child doesn't seem to be sick and there is no on-gong medical condition and they still won't eat? 

Your child might be constipated. Some people, including children, suffer with constipation more than others. If this is the case, your child might not want to eat because they already feel bloated and full.

Does your child suffer from acid reflux. It is quite common in babies but it can also affect older children. Sometimes this can be overlooked because children don't always complain that their stomach is hurting and sometimes they find it difficult to put into words.

Is your child teething, or tired or just not feeling well. These could also have an affect on their eating.

If you think it could be any of these things than talk about it with your doctor. Most of these things have really simple fixes.

Routine -

It could just be something as simple as routine. If you don’t have regular meal times, pay attention to how frequently they are eating. Do you eat in front of the TV often, and/or mostly let your kids pick what they want to eat? If they aren’t eating well or willing to try foods, lack of routine may be the reason for it… or at least part of it.

 Age -

Some children start off as good eaters but then at about 1 to 2 years old they start to get more picky.  This can be very upsetting for parents but it is normal for toddlers to go through this picky stage of eating. A lot of it is to do with their taste buds changing and also them wanting to have control of aspects of their lives. Often it is at this time that problems start to get worse, because we try harder to make it all OK.

Below is a list of ideas that might help:- ​

Share Meals Together - Sometimes this is easier said than done. We are all so busy and while your child is sitting down at the table it is very tempting to catch up. It could be that this is the time you need to clear the kitchen sides, or catch up on social media etc. Try to take this time to sit down with your child. Mealtime is a very social time. It is a time when your child will follow your lead and learn from you how to behave when eating. Be careful though - if you push your food around your plate or make faces when you eat food you don't like then that is what your child will do.

This is an excellent learning time. Talk about the colour of the food and what it taste like. Introduce new words to describe the food.

It might be hard when you have 101 things to do, but even eating a meal with your child 3 times a week will be a great benefit for both of you.

Space meals and snacks to 2 to 3 hours apart. - Your child would love to graze on the things he/she loves to eat all day. If they are allowed to do this, chances are they will not be hungry when it comes to mealtimes. Even juice or milk can suppress their appetite. Juice or milk should be saved for mealtimes, water should be offered in between. 

Spacing out meals is very important to your child becoming a good eater. Remember, just offer water in between.

You could try breakfast at 8am, then a snack at 10:30am. Lunch could be at 1pm. At 3pm you could offer a small snack (maybe just a yogurt). Dinner could be at 5:30 or 6pm. This is just one example, but here your child is having 3 meals plus 2 snacks. More than enough for a days eating.  

Never force feed - You should not hold your child's mouth open and shove a  spoonful of food into it unless there is a medical reason for doing so. This will set you up with so many problems around food. It can set up negative feelings. It takes away the child's control over what they put into their mouths. It can stop the development of healthy eating habits as well as inhibiting their independence.

This is hard not to do when your worried about your child eating enough and it is very tempting - but please don't put your child on the defensive. You don't want your child ending up eating less.

Ask them what they would like for lunch - Of course this might just lead to the same thing over and over so talk to them about the food you might like. Then plan a shopping trip. Discuss having some of the foods they want with some of the foods you want. Start to write a shopping list and encourage your child to do the same. Then go in the kitchen and check if you have the food in the cupboards of the fridge, if not go out and buy the food. Even if you are not able to read what's on your child's list, they will be able to if it includes what they chose for lunch.

Remember this can be something as simple as a sandwich.

When you get home from the shops encourage your child to help you prepare the lunch, then both sit down and enjoy.

Eat at a Table - Not everyone has a dinning table. Nowadays, a lot of us sit with a tray on our laps, usually while watching TV. This is sending a message to your child that eating is not that important, it is just something that has to be finished quickly before the next program starts.

Even if you don't have a dinning table, use the coffee table. Or for lunch put a blanket on the floor and have an indoor picnic. Just as long as your sitting together while eating. And try to have the TV off during mealtimes. This is easier said than done, I know.

Set an Example - The way you react to food will be noticed by your child. If you push your food around your plate, your child will. If you pull faces when you eat something you don't like, you child will. If you rush your food because you need to get on with other things, your child will. Makes sense doesn't it. You are your child's first and most important teacher. Set a good eating example.

Don't run a restaurant - You should not be cooking different meals for everyone.  

There will be times when your child pushes their food around their plate, even if it's their favourite food. There will be times when your child refuses to eat. DON'T open up the fridge to find something else for them to eat. If you have already gone to all the effort of planning and preparing the meal that's on the table, you do not need to start preparing and cooking all over again. Remember - Don't run a restaurant.

If you give in and get them something else, you are just sending the message that they don't have to eat what you are serving. Give in once and you'll be doing it again and again. "But what if they don't eat anything?" I hear you say. Well, they don't eat any dinner. It sounds really cruel, but they will not do it too often. And just think, if they go to bed a bit hungry they will be more than ready for breakfast when they get up.

Try to include foods they do like in every main meal - Always try to put on their plate at least one food you know they like and that you can count on. 

For instance - one of your child's preferred foods might be spaghetti hoops. They might also like cheese sometimes but not always. Other foods they might not like very much might be mash potatoes and sausages. Make the food look interesting by making a happy face. You could put the mash on the top for the hair, the spaghetti could be the face, two little mounds of cheese could be the eyes and the sausage could be the mouth. Yes, they still might only eat the spaghetti, but they will begin to tolerate the other foods being on the plate at the same time. Next time they might just try a little bit of the hair or the mouth. 

Talk about what they would like to cook for someone else. - Talk about making dad a nice sausage roll, or making their brother or sister a fairy cake. Children like to please and this might be your way in to encouraging your child to eat something they don't normally want to eat themselves. 

The next step is to get your child to eat more healthy food and to make better choices