One bite at a time: A fool proof guide to tackling fussy eating

Kinderling News & Features

It’s a fight had in households across Australia. A spoonful of something lumpy hurled across the table and smashed into the living room floor. Getting your little one to eat something other than white pasta, bread, or rice is a serious problem, and not just for the sanity of the adults trying to get them to eat healthy.

According to research conducted by Blackmores 75 percent of Aussie parents worry that their children aren’t getting enough nutrition. That fear is not misplaced. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates around only five percent of Australian children get their recommended serve of veggies every day.

Is fussy eating normal?

Dr Deb Levy is a specialist paediatrician who believes that a period of fussy eating is often a normal part of development.

“It’s part of children learning that they can have control over certain things and develop a sense of autonomy” Deb explains.

“While that is a normal part of development, it’s when the number of types of foods they reject increases that fussy eating habits can have lasting effects.”

Listen to Deb on Kinderling Conversation:

My child only wants sweet foods!

If your toddler refuses anything with even a hint of colour to it, Deb says, to at least a small extent, this is normal too.

“Children will usually gravitate toward sweet food and that comes from our taste buds. When we’re born mother’s milk is actually quite sweet” Deb explains.

“While that sweetness of mother’s milk is perfect for newborns, it’s not enough for a growing child.”

Persist!

If fussy eating is part of development, it’s a stage all about control. The little person you’re dealing with is discovering their own sense of power and control for the very first time in their lives. Just like us, they don’t really love change.

It’s so important to remember that they’re learning new things every day, and so familiar tastes are a source of comfort for them. Every time you let them just have white bread, it makes it harder to break that habit next time.

How to introduce new foods without your toddler trying to murder you

Because they gravitate toward sweeter foods, Deb recommends trying to vary the way certain foods are prepared.

  • Try roasting bitter vegetables with butter (which is a good healthy fat.)
  • Try growing your own herbs with your child in a windowsill herb garden. Let them decide what they’re putting in their food and you’re encouraging them to use their power good, not evil.
  • Encourage your children to help participate in making food.
  • Get them to help make grocery choices at the supermarket, carrying them from their shelves to the shopping trolley (the fruit and veggie aisles are your safest bet, then it’s back to the trusty shopping list. Unless you’re happy to come home with 40 tubs of Milo ice-cream…
  • Have your meals sitting around a table and eat together.
  • Offer two foods that they’re comfortable with and one new food. That way they don’t go hungry if they refuse to eat the new food, but you’re also not relenting on exploring new tastes.
  • Offer new foods again and again and again.

Monkey see Monkey do

If you’re still being met with screaming tantrums every time a piece of broccoli is foisted onto your child’s plate, Deb has a tactic. Put the offending food in their line of sight on the table, but not on their plate

 “Even though they may not eat say stir fried spinach … it will be on the table, they'll see it, they'll see you eating it and see you enjoying it with a smile on your face.”

Apart from getting used to the sight of someone enjoying the ‘offending’ veggie, we’re taking advantage of the fact that they learn by mimicking at these young ages. If we do something, they might just follow suit (after a few weeks).

Every little bit counts

While all these strategies sound amazing on paper, it’s important to be kind to yourself. Your child won’t hate you for giving them a tomato, even if they scream it so loudly the windows rattle. Fussy eating is a passive battle fought at dinner tables all around the country. “It comes down to you just persevering, not giving up and offering the same foods again” Deb concludes.

You’re not alone

If you find you’re arming yourself for war once the sun goes down, remember that you’re not alone. It can be done, just remember to do it one bite at a time.