By Nutrition and Dietetics Department and Speech Language Therapy Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital
"My son refuses to eat any vegetables on his plate. I have tried to disguise the vegetables in his food, but he manages to pick them out."
"My daughter can finish a burger and fries at the fast food place in a jiffy, but does not finish her meals at home."
"He takes 1 hour to finish 2 tablespoons of noodles."
If any of the above statements sound familiar, then welcome to the world of fussy-eaters.
It is natural to get caught up in a whole mix of feelings when your child is not eating well. Your first worry is that your child may not be getting enough nutrition for his/her growth and development, so you would resort to all ways and means to get him/her to eat (i.e scolding, forcing to bribing or threatening). These anxieties may soon turn into anger and aggravate the situation. So, let us look at the possible reasons for a child being a fussy eater.
There are a small percentage of these fussy eaters who may have an underlying medical and/or physiological cause for finding it difficult to feed, so they are not technically-speaking fussy eaters. For example, prematurity may predispose to problems sucking and swallowing if not addressed early, a history of invasive procedures to the oro-facial region may result in oral hypersensitivity, severe regurgitation may result in discomfort associated with feeding.
However, the majority of fussy eaters exhibit food refusal. It is usually part of their growing up as they learn ways to assert their independence or use it as a form of manipulative behaviour to gain attention from their parents or other caregivers. They may also develop "food jags", in which the child might refuse previously accepted foods as a result of consuming the same food, prepared the same way, every day (or on a very consistent basis). It is important to understand that food refusal or a child having negative attitudes towards food is very common, especially in the toddler and preschool years.
Nevertheless, here are some strategies to make meal times relaxing for both you and your child, as it is important to provide a positive feeding environment as a baseline.
Strategies to improve feeding environment and behaviours:
Some practical tips to encourage intake in fussy eaters:
Avoid showing your anxiety if your child’s intake is poor as this will in turn, stress the child. Keep the feeding environment as enjoyable as possible for your child!
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