Is Your Child a Fussy Eater?
Try persuading your fussy eater to eat a green leafy vegetable or a broccoli! That is one of the most infuriating and most common task a parent would have encountered before. Many parents consider one or more of their kids to be a so called “fussy eater”. It’s a term we hear EVERYWHERE, spoken on the lips of parents around the globe. As a mother of two little princesses, and despite being a Speech Therapist who specialises in working with infants and children with feeding difficulties, I too encountered difficulties during my journey as a mother when it came to feeding them. Despite all the knowledge and experience I had, I was stressed and worried myself. So I can understand how lost and how frustrating some parents may feel when it comes to feeding their children.
There are two main contributing factors to challenges when feeding your child. Fussy eating or food neophobia. Psychologists suggest that food neophobia is fairly normal where most children go through a phase where they may reject new foods. This typically occurs around the age of two and can continue for a few months or years.
Fussy eaters on the other hand have slightly different characteristics from children with just food neophobia. Fussy eaters tend to:
Eat less than 20-30 types of food.
Avoid certain food in particular food groups (e.g. avoids all meat)
Are willing to try new foods after several exposures
Get tired and reject particular foods, but after taking a break from that particular food, Will be able to accept subsequently.
As a parent of a fussy eater myself, I tried my best to follow what I preached. At times, it can be challenging, but it personally worked for me, after persevering for months!
Have regular meals, spaced 3 hours apart. Hunger will help to build appetite and increases the likelihood of your child eating.
Keep meal times to 30 min. When the meal is over avoid supplementing with milk after the feed for the child who did not take enough.
Snack time should be limited, to allow for hunger and appetite during main meals.
Water only between meals, avoid juices and milk as these fill your child up.
Plan for at least one to two familiar foods that your child accepts for the meal. This will reduce the worry of your child having an empty stomach by the end of the meal. Continue to expose them to new foods and other foods served on the table. It helps them to gradually learn new family foods, and eases them into accepting the family meal. Many parents make the mistake of ensuring the whole meal consists of only foods that the child accepts. Your child then misses out on opportunities to learn new foods that the rest of the family eat, and their food repertoire then continues to be limited.
Allow for self-feeding. When they feel in control, they will be more willing to explore.
Encourage participation! It can be helping you prepare and cook the food, or helping out during grocery shopping. During mealtimes, fussy eaters can be roped in to ‘serve’ food to everyone including themselves during the meal. This will give them an opportunity to interact with the food or decide the amount they would like to have on their plate. It helps to slowly increase their acceptance of the food.
Serve small portions of new foods together with foods they accept. Encourage them to explore their food, by touching with their utensils, smelling, touching or taking small tastes. Avoid bringing or forcing your child to try the new food.
Praise your child when they take or tastes new food.
It will be messy!
A research study found that as much as 46% of children were fussy eaters at some point during early childhood and that this behavior is transient and part of normal development. So parents, it is probably a phase that children may outgrow, as long as your child continues to grow at a rate appropriate for their age. Try to keep calm and expose, expose, expose!
About the Author:
Desiree is a mother of two princesses, a four year old and a 2 year old. She is also an experienced Speech Therapist who is currently working at Magic Beans Feeding and Speech Therapy Centre. Her specialty and passion lies with working with children with swallowing and feeding difficulties including fussy eaters and premature infants, as well as children who stutter. She also has experience working with children with speech and language difficulties.
Desiree obtained her Bachelors and Masters in Speech Pathology from the University of Sydney, Australia. She was previously the head of Speech Therapy department at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital. She has more than 10 years of experience working with premature infants and at feeding clinic in both KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital and National University Hospital.
As a mother of two, she understands and empathises with parents, especially those who have a child who require speech therapy. Her experience as a parent herself has helped her gain further insight on how to work and engage children better. It has also helped her to work better with families and their child as she is able to understand the difficulties families face better, being a parent herself. She strives to provide practical suggestions for parents to implement in their homes and daily lives. This additional dimension gives her practice and therapy an edge when working with families and their children.
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