Many studies suggest that young children require a minimum of ten exposures to a new food before they accept it. Introducing them to a wide variety of flavors and textures between the ages of 6 and 9 months will broaden their culinary horizons and reduce the likelihood of fussy eating later on.
“So when she turned 2 and stopped eating carrots, and then beans, and then salmon, I was at a loss,” she continues. “I’d read that fussy eating is quite common in toddlers, but I wasn’t expecting it at all from Emma.”
Thomson spoke to friends, researched online, and read books on fussy eating. She started with small steps.
“[I always made] sure there was at least one thing on her plate that I knew she would eat,” she says. “I began roasting vegetables, which can make them sweeter, and I spent a lot of time making food look interesting: sheep-shaped mashed potato with peas for eyes and string beans for legs, spider meatballs with spaghetti legs.”
Though it required a lot of effort, these steps encouraged Emma to try different things. She is now once again a “good eater.”
To find out what else parents can do, I spoke to Dr. Thilan Fellay, a pediatrician at International SOS.
How common is fussy eating among children?
Fussy eating is most prevalent among toddlers; up to a third of 2-year-olds can be classified as fussy eaters. Most grow out of it and begin to accept a wider range of food in time. But very occasionally, there might be an underlying problem that’s contributing to a sudden loss of appetite.
Which age group is more likely to exhibit fussy eating?
Around 2 years old. This sometimes sudden change can be attributed to several factors. Around the end of the first year, a child’s growth rate slows down, which may affect their appetite. You may notice they are less co-operative in other areas [like]getting dressed or putting their shoes on. Refusing food is a way of asserting themselves. They are also busy learning new skills and activities; life can just be too exciting to spend time eating.
Parents worry about nutrient gaps if their child is a fussy eater. What foods should a child have in their diet?
We recommend the following as a rule of thumb: two servings of fruit, seven servings of vegetables, and two servings of calcium.
For fruits and vegetables, serving sizes can var. The goal is to try and have as much variety as possible to ensure that your child gets a wide range of nutrients. Calcium is also important, with children needing 500mg daily between 1 and 3 years old. Calcium sources include:
Dairy: 500ml of milk is the recommended daily amount per day. One tub of yogurt or 20-30g of cheese is roughly equivalent to 150ml of milk.
Fortified cereals, soy milk, bread, drinks, orange juice, and oatmeal. Be careful of the sugar content in industrial fruit juice.
Rhubarb, collards, greens, spinach, turnip greens, okra
Broccoli and peas, spinach, brussel sprouts
If your child seems healthy and energetic, they are probably eating enough. If you are still concerned, keep an eye on how much food they eat over the day. Children tend to graze rather than restrict their eating to three meals per day like adults. You may be surprised how those little handfuls and snacks add up. For further reassurance, check your child’s growth and weight charts or see your doctor.
What can parents do to help their child?
It’s important to continue offering a wide variety of healthy foods. Setting good eating patterns at this stage will stand your child in good stead for the rest of their life. Try the following:
Stick to a routine with three meals a day: breakfast, lunch and tea, with healthy snacks mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Make sure they sit in the same place to eat as often as possible to help them feel comfortable and secure.
Avoid lengthy meals, fighting, insisting, cajoling, tricking, bargaining or telling long stories, songs and endless games. It should be a quiet, relaxing time and reasonable duration dedicated to food and personal interactions like any meal shared in a family.
Offer food when they are most likely to be hungry. Some children are starving as soon as they wake up, while others need longer to work up an appetite. If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force them to eat.
Present simple, healthy food. Don’t ask them what they want. Give small portions; offer praise when it’s finished, then offer more. Give tried and tested foods alongside anything that is new so that the meal looks familiar.
Eat together. This makes mealtimes more enjoyable and sociable. Invite their friends round for meals. Toddlers will often accept new foods if eating with other children who like and enjoy that particular food.
Encourage them to feed themselves. You might face a mess, but they may well eat more if they have more control. Finger foods like sandwiches, cheese on crackers, breadsticks and hummus, small sausages, vegetable sticks and pieces of fruit are favorites with toddlers.
If your child will eat only a few foods, build on these. For instance if they like potato, try different types such as mash and roast potatoes. If they reject something they previously enjoyed, don’t worry. Introduce it again later.
Try to keep calm even if a meal hasn’t been eaten. If you are anxious and tense, your child will pick up on this and it could make the situation worse. So don’t make a fuss – just take the plate away without comment.
"When she turned 2 and stopped eating carrots, and then beans, and then salmon, I was at a loss"
As long as the child is active, not losing weight, and is getting the key nutrients they need, parents shouldn’t be too concerned if their child is a fussy eater. It seems that perseverance is the key. Repeated exposure to a new food helps, as eventually the new food becomes familiar and your child becomes more open to the idea of tasting it. Above all try, try, and try again.
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This article originally appeared on p52-55 in the November 2014 issue of beijingkids. To view it online for free, click here. To find out how you can obtain your own copy, email email@example.com.
Photos: Gamene (Flickr)