Caroline Lilley September 29, 2014

We all remember a time when we would turn our nose up at any vegetable served by our parents, but for some parents the worry of their children not getting all the right nutrition to help their bodies grow is a long term issue.

Fussy eating in childhood

Nutritional therapist, Louisa Richards says: “Fussy eating in children can be a common phase, particularly in the 12-24 months age group.

If you’re a parent you’ll be pleased to hear that a number of causes exist that could explain why your child isn’t eating properly.

• Neophobia is a fear of eating new foods that was thought to have developed through evolution to stop us eating poisonous foods.

• Growth rates largely determine a child’s appetite. So they might choose to avoid eating large amounts of food as a result of not being hungry, feeling stressed or tired or because they have been made anxious by a feeding regime.

Factors such as personality, asserting independence, parental and social influences and feeding styles may also have an effect.

Common foods children dislike

Fear not, there are studies to show that there is a reason behind your youngster’s preference for sweets as opposed to vegetables. It has been proven that children have an innate predisposition for sweet, energy dense foods and a dislike for sour bitter foods. This is why it may be easy to get your child to eat pizza or ice cream but difficult to tempt them with broccoli or peppers!”

However, Louisa say it is always worth persevering with these tastes.

One review looked at a child’s innate desire for sweet foods. It highlighted that children's enjoyment of sugary tastes is not just a product of modern-day living and advertising but reflects their basic biology. Children can cultivate a liking for sweet tastes during their development from sweet-tasting foods, such as mother's breast milk and fruits (i).

Two steps towards conquering a fussy eater

1. Encourage involvement

Getting children involved in the cooking and preparation process can ultimately pay off when it comes to persuading them to eat. Louisa shares her top tips for encouraging children to eat the foods that are good for them:

• Get the family to eat together at the table wherever possible and establish set meal times

• Be a good role model for your children by eating a variety of healthy foods and talking about food in a positive way

• Let children handle food and experience different smells and textures. Older children can be encouraged to help prepare meals and wash and chop vegetables.

• Perseverance is key as it takes on average 10 exposures to a new food before a child will accept it. Modify tastes and textures and offer a wide variety of foods from an early age including a ‘rainbow’ of vegetables.

• Include herbs and spices to give your child a wider range of foods they enjoy.

• Make sure your child has an appetite at mealtimes and avoid the temptation to give unhealthy sweet snacks between meals or to use sweets regularly as a reward for good behaviour.

Be patient with your child if they are a slow eater and don’t get stressed if they refuse to eat something, just offer it again at another meal in a small quantity.

Healthy options to try at home

As breakfast is often coined the most important meal of the day, giving your child a healthy start is important. “For breakfast avoid the commercial cereals and try porridge oats with coconut milk and banana instead. Boiled eggs, omelette or frittata including some spinach, mushrooms or peas can also be a great choice,” advises Louisa.

To help bring variety to your snack and meal times, Louisa recommends trying out the following, simple dishes.

• Homemade hummus with crudités and pitta bread

• Apple stewed with cinnamon served with Greek yoghurt

• Steamed fish or chicken served with sweet potato roasted in coconut oil and green beans

• Lentil dahl served with brown rice

Just remember - every child is different

“Children’s nutrient requirements may vary according to their age, dietary intake and health status,” says Louisa. “A healthy and varied diet is a solid foundation for good nutrition and health, and should be encouraged from a young age.”

If you are worried about your child’s health, speak to your GP or health visitor.

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