Is fussy eating forever?

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1. How normal is picky eating?

Mealtime battles with your little ones can prove a real strain on family time. It’s frustrating when you’ve spent valuable time preparing a meal for your little one, only to have to throw most of it away when they refuse to eat it. Anxiety around mealtimes can be fueled by worries that your child won’t be eating enough to fuel their daily activities or that they’re simply eating too much of the wrong things.

We’ve all heard news stories about the growing childhood obesity crisis but what do you do when your child is flat-out refusing to eat their fruit and vegetables? Presenter and dad of three Alex Winters has been finding out what you can do to get your little one to try new foods and how to encourage healthier habits at home.

2. Will fussy eating damage my child’s health?

CBeebies dad and presenter Alex Winters talks to parents about mealtime stress and asks behavioural psychologist Fergus Lowe what impact fussy eating can have on children’s health.

In this video child psychologist Professor Fergus Lowe explains what causes fussy eating and how it can affect long-term health.

3. Can peer pressure change what children eat?

There’s no doubt that children’s eating habits are influenced by what they see others around them eating. If there are lots of sweets and crisps in the house or among their friends, then it’s likely that’s what they’ll want to eat too.

Luckily, peer pressure can work both ways. As a parent, you are your little one’s main role model. If they can see you regularly eating, trying and enjoying a whole range of healthy food, and being really enthusiastic about it, they’ll be more inclined to try the same things.

If you know another child who is an adventurous eater, invite them round for a meal – watching them enjoy fruit and vegetables will encourage your little one to give them a try as well.

4. Top tips on dealing with fussy eating

So what exactly can parents do to turn their child from a difficult diner into an adventurous eater?

Professor Fergus Lowe shares his top tips on what you can do as a family to encourage your little one to try new foods.

5. New tastes take time...

Create a positive atmosphere around food and the dinner table so that your child looks at new flavours as something fun and rewarding.

  • It can take 10 to 15 tastes of a new food before your child gets used to it.
  • Introduce food in small spoonfuls and over time to avoid overwhelming your little one.
  • Start with little bites from your own plate.
  • Try a new food together and show them how you are willing to try things too!
  • Remember to stay positive - even if you need to fake it sometimes.
  • Eating sugary and sweet food regularly develops your child's taste for those flavours.
  • Try to make the dinner table open and relaxed, and get your little one involved in food prep where possible.
  • Talk about what you’re eating - what it looks like, how it tastes and where it comes from.
  • Try a reward chart rather than using sweets and desserts as motivation.

6. Don’t stress, it may be nature

Fussy eating often coincides with the age at which your child becomes more independent. It’s thought that young children’s aversion to new food is an evolutionary development that came about in order to stop little ones from picking at potentially harmful food as they explore their environment.

When talking about food, try to keep language positive. It can be all too easy to rule certain food out of your child’s diet in the frantic search for things that they will eat but phrases like “Johnny doesn’t like peas” will only re-enforce your child’s beliefs. After all, children’s moods vary from day to day so, although they may not like peas today, they may well wolf them down next week.

If you have foods that you would prefer your child not to eat, such as meat or processed foods, try not to dwell on this but talk about the foods they can try. Too much negativity connected with food may mean they will be hesitant to experiment.

7. What's the best strategy for my child?

Quick tips to bear in mind when dealing with a fussy little one.

Introduce things gradually

Remember

It takes 10-15 tastes

Your little one may well come to love what's on offer. Keep trying!

Positive peer pressure

Don't forget

Peer pressure works both ways

Invite children who enjoy lots of different food over for tea.

Put them in control

Get them involved

Make shopping and cooking fun

Little ones thrive when you get them involved in buying and preparing the food they eat. They'll be more likely to try a meal they've helped to cook.

Reward charts

Why not try

Reward charts

Use non-food related rewards and praise when your child tries new things. Avoid rewarding good behaviour with sweets and desserts.