How to Banish Fussy Eating (According to Science)

How to Banish Fussy Eating (According to Science)

For something that is meant to be life-giving and nourishing for the body, mind and family spirit, mealtimes can be a nightmare. Not just any nightmare, but the type that can only come with a battle-weary parent and a small human who has tasted more victory at mealtimes than vegetables. 

I have heard there are kiddos who come in the version that eat everything that’s put down in front of them. That’s not how it was at my house, and if it’s not that way at your home either, take heart. Fussy eating, as tough as it is to deal with when it happens, is a very ‘normal’ part of childhood. 

‘… children naturally go through stages during their toddler years when they are often fussy and will refuse new foods, particularly vegetables. This is a normal developmental stage for children, but it can often lead to a restricted diet as children become fussier and fussier about what they will not eat. Families need evidence-based scientific advice about what they can do to help encourage children to taste, and eventually like, new or disliked fruits and vegetables.’ – Dr Claire Farrow, Aston Research Centre for Child Health.

As comforting as it is to know that your little one isn’t doing anything out of the ordinary,  it will bring cold relief when the dinner table becomes a battleground. Now, science has found a way to help. New research has found that with three simple steps, parents can positively change their child’s attitude towards food. 

The research, published in the journal, Appetite, found that introducing three steps dramatically increased children’s liking and eating of vegetables that they had previously rejected.

The steps … Tell me the steps.

The important thing to remember is persistence. You have to be persistent. (Yes I know – I wish it could be easier too!) Knowing the difference these steps can make will make it easier to stand firm. Little ones are tough. They are skilled and highly effective negotiators. Don’t let anyone tell you differently. Here’s what you need to know to bring yourself up to their level of negotiating prowess.

Step 1 –  Repetition: Repeatedly expose your child to the food. Try the same vegetable for at least 14 days in a row. Be patient. The idea is to help them become familiar with the food. Kids might need to try something up to ten times – maybe more – before they feel familiar enough to be okay with it. If they reject the food don’t worry – it’s not over, it’s a win. It means you’re one try closer to mealtime bliss. Or a taste without argument. Same thing.

Step 2 – Role Modelling: Eat it first and show them how delicious it is. 

Step 3 – Rewards: Praise them for trying, even if they’ve only taken a tiny bite. Or a lick. It all counts. All great achievements start with plenty of small, imperfect steps. You know it does.

Do this with the same vegetable/s for at least 14 days.

‘Our research shows that a combination of repeatedly exposing children to vegetables, rewarding them for trying the food and modelling enjoying eating the vegetable yourself, can help to encourage children to taste and eventually like vegetables which they did not previously like eating.’ – Dr Claire Farrow.

The eating behaviours that kids learn in childhood will often move with them as they get older. The individual steps might not come as a surprise, but knowing that they make a difference will make it easier to keep going with them when your little warrior is giving you every reason call it quits for now and try again another time.

4 Comments

Muhammad Mubashir Ullah Durrani

Children are influenced by the world.
My little sister who is 6 wont eat food because she is worried about the calories.
Dear Lord, I don’t have it in me to say something.
She eats the salad and yoghurt. A wee bit of the other stuff like meat and rice. Is this fuzzy eating?
What does one do in such a situation?
Thanks.

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washingtondc

My relative is of mixed heritage. It saddens me that he still does not like rice or eggs. I don’t know if he will ever truly enjoy Asian cuisines…or the cuisine of our people, specifically. He is still young. He takes after his dad’s tastes. Asian foods are much more flavorful. Rice is a big part of it. Eggs are used in many dishes and cultural cuisines.

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Karen B

I grew up a picky eater and wanted to make sure my kids did not suffer the same as I did.
1. Everything they eat is good. No criticism. No battles at meals. State what good eaters they are. It really sets up their confidence.
2. No fast food. No sugar, candy cookies before age one. No soda! It ruins their ability to taste regular food and sets them up for a lifetime of bad eating habits.
3. Give them mashed fruit and avocados before teeth. Bring a banana along for a snack. Crunchy cut up veggies with a little salad dressing, when they can chew, for a before dinner snack.
4. Make healthy food taste good. Add dressing, butter and parmigian cheese, tomato sauce, maple syrup, oregano, a little garlic.
5. Keep variety coming. Goat cheese on crackers, whole grains with pesto, pickles, etc..
6. If they don’t like something, no problem. No drama. Just acknowledge that it may be a food they will like when they are older, and again, what good eaters they are eating their other food! If you like it keep enjoying it.
So, my kids grew up without the burden of pickiness and with the ability to make healthy choices.

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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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