Here's how to change your child's fussy eating habits - according to a nutritionist

Friday, 6th March 2020, 4:02 pm
Updated Friday, 6th March 2020, 4:03 pm

Research has revealed that, on average, British parents consider less than half (45 per cent) of the time they spend with their children to be actual "quality time."

A whopping 86 per cent of the 2,000 parents surveyed by Scandinavian parenting brand, Stokke, wish they could spend more quality time with their children, with a massive 90 per cent of fathers feeling the strain.

Expert advice

"One very easy way to make time for one another is to fall into a routine of eating dinner together each day, or as often as you can," says leading infant and child nutritionist, Charlotte Stirling-Reed.

"Particularly at the important weaning stage in a child’s life where a baby is following your every move.

"Children learn the skills of eating, social skills and even what foods they enjoy by first copying others. So even if it’s just you and your baby or child, having you as a part of their mealtime makes a huge difference to how they enjoy they food and makes dinner part of a routine."

There are Stirling-Reed's other top tips for happy and healthy family mealtimes:

Don’t make separate meals

It is not uncommon for parents to make separate meals for everyone in the family, or even for mums and dads to create multiple meals for a single child at dinner time, only to have each and every one rejected.

Almost a third (30 per cent) of British parents say they have to serve their children different meals every day. A massive 84 per cent say they do it each week, the Stokke research revealed, but Charlotte says it is not necessary.

"This isn’t good for your child, for your sanity as a parent. To avoid allowing dinnertime to become a dreaded battle and help your fussy child, offer a choice between one or two healthy options," she advises.

"For example, do you want Weetabix or porridge? Or, do you want potatoes or pasta today? This way, you’re allowing them some independence whilst still being in control of they food they’re eating.

"Alternatively, try and have one option that everyone eats. It’s good for you and your children to eat the same meals, and see you eating similar foods to encourage them to eat a wide variety themselves."

Don’t offer alternatives

Research has shown time and time again that babies and children learn to like what is familiar to them. If you offer your child broccoli and they reject it and you never offer it again, they won’t ever learn to like it and their diet is being restricted.

Next time a meal is refused, without much comment put it in the fridge for later. Offering alternatives only teaches children that they can control the food they eat, and as soon as they understand this they will exploit it to the maximum.

Don't give your fussy eater attention

In most instances, any attention given to food refusal simply encourages it, so don’t give all your attention to the fussy eater.

Instead, give your attention to the people around the table, whether it be dad, brother or sister, who are eating well and enjoying their food. Offer lots of praise for good eating behaviour, such as, ‘Well done, daddy, you’ve eaten all your broccoli’, and talk about the aspects of the meal you enjoyed.

It might not work straight away, but your child will finally realise that they get more attention at dinner from eating well than from being fussy. It's another reason to try and get the whole family sitting together at the dinner table. If this can’t happen every day in your family, try and make an effort to do so at least once a week.

Don’t force your child into eating

Avoid trying to force or coax your child into eating, even if you’re worried they’re not consuming enough food. It can establish a negative relationship with food, and can also be dangerous.

Young children are actually excellent at knowing when they are hungry and when they are full. If we override these signals, they are likely to have less understanding of their appetite as they grow older.

Put down the distractions

According to the research undertaken by Stokke, over two thirds of parents try to use distractions to get their children to eat something unconsciously. However, this simply teaches your children that food is bad or unimportant. Even if distractions might make feeding slightly easier in that moment in time, using them tells children that eating is something we need to be 'over and done with’ as quickly as possible.

They also distract from what can be an important social occasion for a family too. Often, this also sets yourself up for difficulties in the future as your child experiences eating in new situations, for instance at friend’s house or at nursery. If you want your child to grow up to love their food, you need to show them that the delicious and varied foods you eat at home are worth attention and time.