Eating is one of the most natural things children do ... when they want to!
What kids eat (and what they refuse) is a common source of angst to parents — eight out of 10 Australian parents are concerned about their child's eating habits and one-third worry that their child isn't eating enough, reports news.com.au.
We know that establishing healthy eating patterns will help to avoid problems as a teenager and even into adulthood, but how are fussy eaters best dealt with?
There's no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing the fusspot at home, but sorting out why your child is fussy and what nourishment they're missing out on will help you find the right strategy to fill in the nutrient gaps and prevent long-term eating and health issues.
Here are the five most common types and the solutions that I've found work best.
1. THE 'I'M FULL' EATER
This child is only able to eat a small volume of food at one sitting, no matter what you offer them.
Why: Some children fill up easily and their stomach reports back quickly to the brain to say that it's full.
Try this: Make every bite count by trying to ensure they get nourishing meals in a small volume. Add nutrient-packed extras such as cheese, avocado or hummus to a meat sandwich, add almond meal or ground seeds to porridge and offer a hot meal such as last night's leftovers for lunch instead of just the regular Vegemite sandwich.
Never do this: Let them snack on refined 'empty calorie' foods, such as sweet biscuits, chips, lollies or ice-cream.
2. THE FEARFUL EATER
Known as neophobia, a fear of new things.
Why: Some children are anxious and prefer to stick with their safe foods.
Try this: Keep exposing them to new foods along with familiar ones. Get them to touch, smell or even kiss new foods.
Never do this: Force-feed or make them sit at the table for hours as this will escalate the fear.
3. THE SOFT-AND-SMOOTH EATER
This child has resisted going from pureed to lumpy and then onto solid foods.
Why: Some little ones get used to swallowing their food with minimal or no chewing if the consistency stays as a puree. They miss the cues for chewing and appear to gag on small lumps.
Try this: Add pieces of grated cheese or small grains of cooked pasta or rice to their puree, or small pieces of banana into smooth yoghurts.
Introduce soft crackers with avocado or spread with the main meal puree so they can start to chew. Make bath time and teeth-cleaning fun by using the toothbrush or bath flannel to bite down on and tug to strengthen their jaw grip.
Never do this: Rely on pouch foods! Not only are they pureed and discourage chewing, but children can't smell the foods they're eating. Without smell, the flavour is dulled and the true taste is lost.
4. THE MILK-O-HOLIC
Milk is a pleasant and nutritious drink that kids love; some also use their bottle as a pacifier.
Try this: If they're over 12 months, transition them to a cup and offer other sources of calcium-rich foods such as yoghurt and cheese as you decrease milk volume.
Never do this: Offer milk instead of food, especially after they've turned one.
5. THE DRY, WHITE EATER
This is exactly as it sounds — a child who only likes food that's white, dry, without sauce and bland.
Why: Some children and adults known as 'supertasters' find many flavours overpowering.
Try this: Use bland dipping sauces such as cream cheese or blended cannellini beans to introduce some sauce and fibre to their diet (constipation can be a problem due to a lack of fibre). Melt some cheese over pasta or cook an egg through steamed rice to add some much-needed protein.
Never do this: Give up! Try adding a few dry, colourful foods to their plate and offer dipping sauces for them to use with their white foods.
Eventually their tastebuds will become accustomed to new, bright tastes and they might just become more curious.
WHEN TO GET HELP
If your child's diet is missing whole food groups such as vegetables or meat, or they don't have a set meal routine (or they eat all meals while watching TV), this can lead to problems later.
If you're concerned, seek the guidance of a healthcare professional such as a dietitian to work towards a solution where there's no more fuss.