Food refusal or fussy eating is very common in children, especially when they begin to show their independence! It is easy for parents to get both concerned and frustrated when their child refuses to eat your carefully prepared meal or snack. However, you need to remember that they are still discovering new tastes, flavours and textures. They are also discovering their hunger and fullness signals which are constantly changing with growth.
Food is one aspect of your child’s life that they can control. The more you fuss and try to control what your child eats, the more they will fuss and the issue is no longer just about the food but is also about control. When this power struggle happens over and over, all they remember is saying they do not like a certain food and the negative experience associated with the food. This negative association with the food makes it even harder to try in the future. A key to preventing long-term issues with fussy eating is to not fuss.
Getting your child to try new foods
- Trying new foods comes easier for some children than for others. It can take 10-15 tries of a food for someone to officially decide they do not like the food.
- Respect the fact that your child will have some foods they do not enjoy.
- Try not to impose your own likes and dislikes for food on your child.
- Try not to label a food as a dislike, for example, ‘Peter, does not like eggs’ but instead you might say ‘Peter is still trying eggs’ or ‘Peter is not sure if he likes eggs yet’. If you label the food as something your child does not like, they will repeat it and that will not help you in future attempts.
- Praise the positive aspects of your child’s eating such as trying a new food or for sitting nicely with the family at dinner. Do not praise or make comment if they like or dislike a food.
- Limit or stop ‘grazing’ between meals and snacks. Grazing fills up children and stops them trying new foods at meal and snack time.
Parents Provide Kids Decide:
What this means is that parents’ job is to provide a wide variety of healthy foods at regular meal and snack times and it’s a kids’ job to decide what and how much of that food to eat. Parents should trust a child’s natural hunger and fullness signals. It is really important for your child to trust and listen to their appetite. Try not to offer alternative foods until the next meal or snack if what you offer is refused. This can make many parents anxious! Your child will eat more at a future meal or snack if their body needs more kilojoules (energy).
Dealing with food refusal
- A key behaviour for parents to practice is to ‘don’t fuss’, ignore behaviour and remain calm.
- The only action you should take is to remove the meal without a fuss; offer the same food at another snack or meal. Stay calm.
- Do not force feed or bribe your child to eat as this gives them your full attention and encourages a power struggle.
- Think about why they aren’t eating — are they tired, distracted, not hungry, testing a parent out?
- Remove food calmly if child is playing or dropping food for an excessive amount of time; they may just be playing with their food to explore textures and smell, or it may be an attention seeking behaviour.
Dealing with fruit and vegetable refusal:
- Don’t use bribes e.g. resist the temptation to offer something you know is liked if they eat something they say they don’t like. The classic is — if you eat your vegetables you can have dessert. This just makes even more special.
- Keep offering a variety of small serves on their plate.
- Be a good role model by eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
- Add in a new fruit or vegetable with a well-liked one.
- Use new fruit and vegetables with familiar dips.
- Do not comment on whether the new food is eaten or not.
- Offer vegetables at other meals besides dinner — for example breakfast, as snacks and at hungry times of the day.
- Try not to pull faces over your foods as this may be modeled as well!
- Hiding vegetables in dishes ensures your child may eat them, but does not encourage acceptance or experiences of new tastes and textures.
- Growing vegetable seeds in a recycled can on the window sill (or in your garden) can establish a great interest in fruit and vegetables, and may increase the likelihood of these foods being eaten.
- Encourage your child to help in preparing fruits and vegetables — e.g. grating, mashing, chopping soft items with a blunt knife.
- Offering fruits and vegetables in a range of forms — many children prefer raw and grated vegetables to cooked ones.
> Useful resources for Session Five: 15 Months