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.

Reply
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.

Reply
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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I’m so excited for this! I’m coming back to Perth in February for another parent talk on 'Strengthening Children and Teens Against Anxiety'. Here’s the when and the where:

⏰ 6:30-8:30pm | 📆 Wed 22 Feb 2023
📍 Peter Moyes Anglican Community School, #mindarie

For tickets or more info google:

Parenting Connection WA Karen Young anxiety Mindarie Perth

💜 Thanks to @ngalaraisinghappiness for hosting this event.

#supportingwaparents #parentingwa
Let them know …

Anxiety shows up to check that you’re okay, not to tell you that you’re not. It’s your brain’s way of saying, ‘Not sure - there might be some trouble here, but there might not be, but just in case you should be ready for it if it comes, which it might not – but just in case you’d better be ready to run or fight – but it might be totally fine.’ Brains can be so confusing sometimes! 

You have a brain that is strong, healthy and hardworking. It’s magnificent and it’s doing a brilliant job of doing exactly what brains are meant to do – keep you alive. 

Your brain is fabulous, but it needs you to be the boss. Here’s how. When you feel anxious, ask yourself two questions:

- ‘Do I feel like this because I’m in danger or because there’s something brave or important I need to do?’

- Then, ‘Is this a time for me to be safe (sometimes it might be) or is this a time for me to be brave?

And remember, you will always have ‘brave’ in you, and anxiety doesn’t change that a bit.♥️

#positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #parenting #childanxiety #heywarrior #heywarriorbook
The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️

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