Does your child refuse to eat greens or turn his face at the sight of squash? If you have a picky eating child, you can find this behavior quite frustrating. Nevertheless, picky eating is a very common complaint. In fact, according to this article (Ref:http://projects.huffingtonpost.co.uk/articles/fussy-eaters/) in the Huffington Post, 39% of children aged three to 11 were identified as picky eaters in a study by journal Appetite.
What is picky eating?
Your child can be considered a picky eater if he prefers to eat the same food over and over, while refusing other varieties of foods. His nutritional intake will be restricted to a small group of foods, which means he may not get the adequate and balanced nutrition required for his growth.
Unlike many other feeding disorders, picky eating is rarely considered a clinical problem. If you look at this article (Ref:http://treatingeatingdisorders.com/understandingpickyeating.aspx ) on the Treating Eating Disorders Blog, you will understand that it is an elusive disorder. Most children show the signs of picky eating when they are few months of age. If ignored, it can continue through childhood and into their adult life.
Is picky eating normal?
The problem isn’t uncommon and picky eating is even considered a normal phase in most child’s development. In fact, many parents and medical practitioners dismiss this as long as the child gains weight. Nonetheless, it can throw up a whole host of issues in future.
A balanced diet that has foods from all the different food groups is essential for your child’s overall physical and mental development. Early childhood eating habits are also linked to several health conditions your child may develop in future, like obesity and anorexia. Although your child may be gaining the required weight now, he may be deprived of the nutrition he needs for optimal development.
Intervention to control and correct fussy eating habits will help your child enjoy a life of healthy food habits. As a first step, it is necessary to identify the cause of the problem. The likely causes are listed below.
Likely causes of picky eating
Several reasons have been identified for picky eating, ranging from genetics to temperament and even the parents eating habits.
A study by the University of North Carolina found that picky eating may be associated to the genetic makeup of the child, to a small extent. Acceptance of foods is also linked to the different varieties of food the child’s mother had when pregnant and nursing.
If your child has heightened sensory sensitivity, this could also be the reason behind picky eating. Such children prefer foods that are easy to eat, with no strong texture or smell. It isn’t unusual for children to also be fussy about how the food looks, just as much as how it tastes.
Lack of exposure to different foods may also cause a child to be wary of trying new things. If the family sticks to the same types of meals all the time and do not offer new things to try, the child will also be reluctant to eat unfamiliar food.
It is also possible that your child takes after you. Take a look at how you eat. If you are very particular about what you consume and have food aversions, your child may be picking up on it and doing the same.
How to control and correct picky eating
Meal times can be a challenge in families with children who are picky eating. Many such parents resort to pressurizing their child into eating what they serve. Unfortunately, forcing a child to eat what he doesn’t like isn’t a lasting solution.
This can in fact have a negative effect, and only make your child resist the food he dislikes, even more. The better approach is to identify likely causes of the problem and slowly coax your child to accept the changes you put forth. Consistence and patience will enable you to convince your child to make the switch. When he does it consciously, he will accept the change and stick to it.
Here are some suggestions to help your child correct his fussy eating habits.
Avoid force-feeding: It is your responsibility to offer healthy foods. However eating it is up to your child. Although you can gently nudge him along, it isn’t wise to force your child into eating it. Avoid a power struggle, where you compel your child to finish his plate of food. Keep your calm and manage expectations. You will observe more progress when your child takes the initiative.
Be a role model: Children tend to pick up habits from their parents and other adults around them. If you constantly binge on junk foods and avoid greens and vegetables yourself, don’t expect your child to be different. Set the right example by showing him the healthy way to eat. When he watches you enjoying a variety of healthy food, he will also be tempted to try the same.
Mix it up: Plan your family meals in such a way that there is a variety of options for your child to explore. This should also include foods that he normally shuns. Encourage him to just try the food he isn’t fond of, and compliment his efforts. Ask him to take a bite or a spoonful just to know the taste. Don’t force him any further when he does. Over time his resistance to the food will dwindle and he will be more acceptable of it.
Make it appetizing: Unlike adults, it isn’t easy to convince children to eat food that doesn’t look appetizing. Your child may be more sensitive to certain tastes, and this is why he rejects them. Instead of forcing the item, try to make it more interesting. Experiment with different recipes, or serve it in a different form that will tempt him to try it out.
Wait till he is actually hungry: Many anxious mothers worry excessively about their child feeling hungry, and continuously serve up food that their children eat readily. Avoid doing this. Wait till your child is actually hungry. Then serve the foods that he is less likely to eat first. Since he has built up an appetite, he will at least take a few bites. Give the food he likes afterwards, to fill him up with.
Make it visually interesting: With a little imagination and creativity, you can make your child’s meals more appealing. Young children love to indulge in colorful and interesting looking food. Dress up your child’s plates and snack boxes with food in interesting forms and he will be intrigued. Make the food colorful, even while mixing up stuff he likes with those he isn’t very fond of. It is more likely to go down successfully.
Try substitutes: If you simply cannot get your child to accept certain foods, it is better to find a suitable substitute for it. This may be the easier way to help your child get the nutrients he needs, than get none at all. Look for alternatives for the items on your menu, and replace what he doesn’t like with another. You can later re-introduce the item, and he may then take to it readily.
Don’t bring junk food into the house: Cut off the source of processed and empty-calorie foods in your house, and your child will have no other alternative but to eat what is available. Don’t allow him to help himself to snacks and drinks all day long, as this will affect his appetite. Limit snacking options to healthy, wholesome food that involves minimum processing, and he will be more inclined to try the options available to him.
Consistently introduce new items to the menu: Continuously encourage your child to try new items by introducing new dishes and a variety of ingredients in family meals. Don’t worry if your child barely tastes a dish when you first introduce it. Retry the same item after other alternatives, and he may give it a chance the next time.
Avoid providing alternatives to satisfy his hunger: Over time, make sure your child understands that he cannot have what he wants, if he isn’t happy with what is available. When your child refuses to eat a family meal, curb the temptation to whip up a meal that he likes. He will be more likely to accept what is available the next time and not put up a fuss.
When to worry about picky eating?
If consistent efforts do not result in any success, there may be an underlying issue to investigate. Children with strong sensory sensitivity or those who have had bad experiences with food may also suffer from anxiety that triggers their distaste for certain foods. Dr.Nancy Zucker, in this article on the Medical Daily (Ref: http://www.medicaldaily.com/picky-eating-and-emotional-distress-kids-selective-eating-disorder-may-increase-their-345704 ), urges parents to seek medical intervention when their child’s eating becomes extremely selective to the extent that it affects his health and growth, as well as the parent-child relationship adversely. If conventional approaches to solving the issue are unsuccessful, do not hesitate to seek therapy for your child.