Having healthy and normal eating children is the pride of every parent. In such children disease bouts are rare and mummy is relaxed because cooking and meal times are easy and fun. For mothers who are struggling with a child who is a finicky eater, do not worry because all hope is not lost.
It is very important to note that there is no such thing as “normal” eating for a child. Children eat in different kinds of ways, they have their own distinct tastes and preferences. Some children will go through food phases wherein they want to eat the same food over and over again. This is normal and not to be bothered about. They will eventually switch to other foods as a natural course of action. Sometimes children go through a phase where they are so hungry and they eat everything, sometimes even want more. And some children may go through a phase of not being that hungry and not wanting to eat much. All these phases are normal.
However, you can worry about a finicky eater if the child is not getting enough nutrients to grow and develop at the rate he or she should be. Consult your pediatrician who can monitor your child’s growth and development and determine anything that is medically or emotionally off-balance quickly.
Here are some feeding tips that can help parents of finicky or picky children:
Model the right behaviour - I do not have any research to back up the fad that finicky eating is hereditary, but what I do know is if parents are picky eaters, their children learn and will often follow what is modeled to them. For instance, if a mother never eats vegetables, but serves her child vegetables, the child will probably not want to eat it. Children model parents' behaviors as to how and what they eat.
Expose your child to new foods frequently – Children learn to eat what is familiar. If the food is brand new to them, picky eaters will push it away. The trick is to add varieties to the family menu, this can also include foods from other ethnic regions or countries. One of the characteristics of food is providing the necessary nutrients that the body needs for cell growth, repairs and replenishment, and a balance of nutrients is better achieved by taking a combination of various foods.
Structure meal times – It is the parent’s job to offer a selection of foods at structured times in the day. Do not indulge ‘the snack lover child’, offering three meals and three snacks to your children at specific times will keep them on the right path. If the child chooses not to eat a meal but prefers the snack, you can let him/her make that choice. The consequence is that the child will need to wait to eat until the next structured time, be it snack or another meal. Avoid giving your children snacks all day to save yourself the risk of living with a fussy eater.
Do not give up – Experience has taught me that many parents give up too soon. Practice the exposure strategy; expose the child to the certain type of food up to 10 times (least) before giving up. The trick is to try to get the child a little more interested in the food each time you prepare it for them. For example, let the child watch you eat the food the first and the second time you prepare it, maybe the third time you expose your child to the new food, you ask the child to smell it, but do not demand that he/she eats it. Maybe the sixth time, you ask the child to have a bite or to just taste the food. Maybe the eighth time, you ask the child to help you prepare the food. Letting the child see you eat the food (modeling behavior) is important. Eventually, most children will take a bite, and hopefully like what they taste.
When you present your child with a balanced meal that you are also eating, do not give in to the child's whining or fussiness about eating the food. Do not try to avoid the complaints and end up making a new meal you know they will eat and is probably faster and less confrontational. In the long run, your children will know that they have the power to use their fussiness to be picky eaters if you always give up. There will be certain foods children will not like, do not push them to eat them if they truly dislike the taste.
Avoid negative experience with foods – Forcing a child to eat a food that he/she dislike can give the child a negative experience with the food. Some children may have to stimulate themselves to vomit the food after eating, this is a way of letting you know that they dislike the taste, the appearance or do not want to try the new food. This can lead to a lifetime hatred for the food.
Avoid restricting certain foods – This set up the feeling of deprivation, dieters know what that feels like. When you feel deprived, all you yearn for is the food that you are not to allow yourself. It is the same for children. Relay the message that all foods are equal to your children. When we say that chocolate cake is bad or that an apple is good, we set up a system where children see food in a non intuitive way. Chocolate cakes are part of the foods available to us, and in moderation, they are healthy to eat just like a bowl of carrots. The message to the children should be "balance and eating intuitively." When this is done, the children will be nourished and healthy.
Get the Children involved in the cooking process – The likelihood of the children wanting to eat the food they joined in cooking is much higher. Giving age-appropriate cooking duties that match the child's ability and safety is very important
Make eating time fun filled – This does not include allowing the child to play video game or watch cartoon network while he/she eats. Identifying the different colors on a rich meal can be a lot of fun for many children, this also increases their motivation or desire for such foods.
In summary, model healthy eating, expose your child to all kinds of foods at structured meal times, do not give up too early if they seem not to like a certain food, avoid placing food restrictions, preserve the children from negative food experiences and involve them in the cooking process as much as possible.