Fussy eating – cause for concern?
The answer is almost always – no!
Many children, perhaps the majority, go through phases of being highly fussy eaters in one respect or another. Some of the things you’ll see them get up to will border on the bizarre, like insisting on dry cereal only or refusing to have more or less than a specified number of raisins on their plate.
In the vast majority of instances, these are short-lived things and of no importance.
However, in a few cases, fussy eating can become a more challenging problem.
Fussy eating – causes
There is no universal explanation for this. In fact, it can be difficult or more often impossible to ascribe a cause to most cases of fussy eating in children.
A few things that might be a factor include:
- exerting their ability to influence their surroundings as they age – even if irrationally;
- experimenting and developing their own likes/dislikes;
- reflecting what their body is telling them (such as potential allergies etc.);
- emulating what they’ve seen in an older sibling or been told by friends in school or day care centre;
- associating food with an unpleasant memory even if no causal link exists – such as deciding they don’t like peas because the day they last ate them they were sick later on;
- psychological distress – perhaps appealing for attention through their eating behaviours.
Actions that can be taken
Unfortunately, there is no action that will be guaranteed to work.
A lot will depend upon your child and his or her unique situation. Even so, the following might help:
- if your child’s fad is fairly recent and they seem healthy and happy, do nothing. It will probably pass. If your child doesn’t seem happy or healthy, consult a doctor without delay;
- examine your own habits and those of others in the house. If a sibling or your partner openly proclaim that they don’t like their veg, then there’s a fair chance your child will pick up the same value;
- try asking what’s happening but don’t expect much more than “I don’t like it” in response;
- avoid springing radical foodstuff surprises on children. If they’ve never seen shellfish before, invite them gently to try some and don’t force it if they say ‘no’;
- if they’ve decided not to eat something, make sure they see you doing so and be certain to describe it as delicious. Don’t keep offering it to them though because when they’re ready to try it, they’ll ask;
- don’t bring up your child to believe they are living in a canteen or restaurant with an extensive menu they can select from. Prepare meals for the family and show everyone joins in. If they choose not to take something, that can be their choice but don’t rush off into the kitchen to prepare them a separate meal to their order. If you do, prepare to be stuck doing that potentially until they eventually leave home;
- start developing cosmopolitan tastes in your children by serving various foodstuffs in many different ways, from their earliest ages. If they haven’t seen a lot of variation in their meals and then suddenly new tastes arrive from nowhere, they’ll be more likely to be suspicious and react badly;
- serving food they’ve decided they’re not eating in a play way – such as funny faces;
- try not to criticise your child for not wanting to eat something or only in an odd fashion. This will give them extra attention and reward their behaviour.
Don’t expect radical progress. Sometimes these eating fads pass quickly, at other times they can last for many months or even a lifetime.
Gentle encouragement and experimentation are all that’s required (or possible) in most cases.
When to consult a doctor
Please remember we cannot offer qualified medical advice. However, you might wish to consult a doctor if:
- your child’s refusal is accompanied by other physical symptoms such as vomiting, rashes, stomach aches or diarrhoea;
- your child has stopped eating altogether for more than a couple of days. Do so as an emergency within 24hours if he or she has also stopped taking liquids;
- the child is showing behavioural symptoms of extreme distress as part of their refusal to eat certain foods (aggression, tantrums).
Fortunately, these causes are very rare.
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