Shape your child’s life today with the right foods – before the wrong foods do!
You get some babies that embrace their new foods while some mothers complain that their baby just seems to reject any foods they give him or her.
What causes such young children to already be displaying certain kinds of behaviors?
A published article in Child Development by Moding & Stifter discusses whether introducing new foods could elicit a kind of approach-withdrawal response in little toddlers and babies.
In adults too, the approach-withdrawal response refers to people that either approach or withdraw from new stimuli that are introduced – the response is actually a reflection of their temperament.
And temperament is what will influence how a person approaches and interacts with the world – explaining why some children are open to new foods and others not.
The bottom line of the research according to the study is that with a better understanding of a child’s temperament, a parent can better learn to introduce solids into their child’s diet, and help them not to be picky.
One speech therapist and audiologist of Happy Kids in South Africa says that fussy eaters show signs that they are picky eaters. These are:
- Children who don’t eat the same food as the rest of the family
- When the child gags, chokes, or vomits up food
- Food jagging, i.e. eating a certain food all day, every day.
She says that fussy eating is quite a common habit, often misinterpreted as a child who is being naughty, or a parent who is just lazy, when in fact the parent fights a daily battle to get their child to eat.
Be A Positive Example To Your Child
Apart from temperament, however, there are many other reasons why a child could be turning up his nose at food at mealtimes.
Another review in 2015 also shows that children’s eating patterns are linked to their personality traits as well as to how parental control is managed as well as social influences to maternal eating patterns.
Sometimes, when a parent over-reacts or tries to apply tight dietary regimes to discourage their children from being picky eaters, the method often tends to turn out counterproductive.
The best way to teach your kids is to learn is by example, and being positive when offering the foods, showing your child how much you enjoy the food.
Pediatrician, Tanya Altmann, MD, says that if picky eaters don’t get the right nutrition from their foods because their parents allow them to be too selective, and particularly if the child is a very picky eater, it can lead to short- and long-term nutrient deficiencies as well as other problems.
It’s a good idea to learn by example and to always be positive when you offer food, showing children how much you like food when you serve it. Tanya says it’s important for kids to develop a healthy relationship with food from a young age because if they don’t they can have weight problems and eating disorders later on in life.
It is the parents who can help their children to develop healthy relationships with food, and to avoid all those dinnertime rolls.
Let’s look at how to:
- Let fruit and vegetables be the ‘nice’ foods, with no rewards for eating them
- The battle might start around the last bites of veggies, but a lot of the time for picky eaters, it’s not really about the last bit of veggies that is getting to the child. Many times it’s actually a control struggle.
- Naturally, there are times when kids will react against a certain taste or how food looks, but often, the food is them expressing fear or other feelings. Controlling their own food environment is the main problem. When kids are little, it’s their job to learn control, how to move their bodies and control their functions. So not choosing what foods to put on their plate and not choosing to swallow is another area of non-control.
- Naturally, parents want to control what their kids are eating, because there is a lot of pressure on them to feed their children nutritionally and adequately. Kids often sense this nervous pressure that parents have and realize that mealtimes are something the parents care about it and so the power struggle begins.
- Power struggles teach kids the wrong messages when it comes to food. When a child rejects certain food and the parents are putting pressure on the child to eat that food, the whole experience becomes kind of negative. Have you been one of those parents who says, “OK, if you swallow these last 2 mouthfuls of veggies, you can have that delicious chocolate brownie? They might not realize it, but they are making the desert the delicious, desired food to eat, and the veggies are not “nice”. The veggies are the hard work that needs to be done and the delicious chocolate brownie is the reward for getting through not nice chores.
- A child might well learn that vegetables are good for him or her, but many parents are not teaching their children that it’s the veggies that are nice, the ones to prefer, the ones that make you strong and healthy.
- Sometimes children aren’t hungry when they come to the table either, and they are cranky. They were probably also looking forward to something else for breakfast, lunch or dinner. As the food gets placed before them, they will immediately say, “I don’t like it” in an attempt at trying to let you know that that will means that they won’t have to eat it. Sometimes parents systematically teach their children that the only ‘legal’ way of getting out of eating certain foods at mealtimes is to say, “I don’t like it”.
- Parents need to realize that children still learn and develop taste preferences up till around the age of 5 when they are more stable eaters.
- A well-known theory on discouraging picky eating is for parents to share the responsibility of eating with their kids. Parents control what food is available; when and where the food is eaten and the kids determine how much they will eat and whether to eat. It was registered dietician Ellyn Satter who developed this theory named “Division of Responsibility in Feeding” in the 80s and 90s.
Set Realistic Expectations
- A lot of times, when you introduce food to a child for the first time, they are going to be unsure in the beginning. But that’s OK because it can take children up to around 12 times of tasting certain foods before you could say they like the food. As soon as parents put too much pressure on the kids to like a food straight away, it goes straight away to the “I don’t like it”, even more so if there is a particular reason why the child doesn’t want to eat that food. This makes it even more difficult for the child to start liking it the next time around.
- Getting a child to like a particular food might mean a few things need to happen around that particular food, such as looking at the food in the serving dish which he helped to prepare with his parents, listening to the parent talking positively about eating it, feeling the food or trying to nibble on the food.
Change the menu
- Trying out new foods and rotating the foods at meals is very important to healthy eating, let alone picky eaters. If you eat the same meals over and over again each day, even if the meals consist of healthy foods; you won’t be eating a healthy diet and you can’t blame the child turn being picky! Many parents will say, “My child will only eat green peas”, and because of that, the peas get served every night. You are also teaching a child that monotony is normal. Children need to learn early not to expect the same meals over and over. Give children some other options when it comes to eating. Because it also teaches a child decision making. Look at these delicious and healthy meals to rustle up for kids that even parents will adore!
Don’t make separate meals for children
- When you cater to your child’s picky preferences, you are giving them a reason not to ever try out new foods. Pandering to the pickiness also means you are giving in also to the child’s attention struggles – mom is making he or she feel doted on
andextra special because a special meal is being made to cater just to their needs!
Give children different options about what to eat
- If you don’t want your kids to eat only macaroni and cheese all the time, you have to offer other options – good options for the children so that they can make good decisions. After-school snacks should be healthy such as raw veggies, hummus, and fruit. The kids might skip out the hummus or the carrots but still make a healthy choice if they decide to opt only for the grapes for instance. Try and not make a big deal what how much they eat because if a child is hungry, he will eat.
Behavior issues aren’t the same as picky eaters
- If your child is busy throwing a tantrum or screaming and banging his fists in the air or worse, on the table, these aren’t picky eaters; these are behavior issues in your child that you have to deal with appropriately. This is no picky eater! If you equate behavior problems in the same way as you treat picky eating problems, you are going to really end up with an entirely negative experience in a negative environment.
Involve your child in meal prep
- When you involve your child in meal prepping with you, you make them active participants in what they are going to eat, giving them a sense of control from the start. Children can pick out the groceries too, set the table and prep the food. This will help their curiosity grow as to what the end result will be and of course to taste what they have helped prepare.
Don’t say no to sweets entirely; help your child to manage how and when to eat them
- Children should be able to have access to some nice treats and sweets but it is up to the parents to teach their kids how to eat them sparingly. Give your children guidelines about the meaning of one dessert a day but 3 meals a day and one after-school snack. Then they will understand. If you forbid the sweets entirely, it can backfire on you, potentially leading kids to abuse or overindulge when they get the chance. You could give your child a candy drawer that he or she is able to reach, telling them what is appropriate and what is not for them to be eating. So if Johnny wants candy after lunch, then he might need to realize that he’ll have to skip the chocolate cookie after dinner. It’s a learning opportunity. And if parents feel that their child cannot be trusted; it’s a trust issue and not a food problem.
Be calm and relax, making mealtimes a positive experience
- Not all meal times will turn out perfect, far from it. Even the healthy eater will have a day that he doesn’t eat as balanced as he should. Part of this is about relaxing as a parent and not trying to control the kids too much. When mealtimes become a struggle it is setting both the parents and child up for failures when it comes to eating well. Kids should be just eating what is in front of them, like everyone else. For a lot of children, being a picky eater is often the mechanism used to help to solve some unrelated problem for them, either eliminating pressure or giving them control. It is not always what is on the plate. Remember too, that healthy eating is about being happy and content and happiness and contentment at home matters, a lot.
What are some of the other reasons why children become picky eaters?
Babies who are born too early often struggle to feed, gain weight, and grow. Often, orogastric or nasogastric tubes get fitted which are life-saving, but they can also cause hypersensitivity and muscle weakness.
This could be a sign your child is battling to chew or manipulate food and the vomiting is a biological coping mechanism.
Struggling with solids
Sometimes new textures and flavors are exciting for a lot of children, but others battle to transition over to eating solids.
A child may gag consistently if he has difficulty swallowing or even coping with certain textures or solids. This can lead to an aversion to eating some foods.
Being underweight and not thriving
This could be a sign of fussy eating or difficulty with eating, as a result of not eating enough because of the difficulties.
Oral motor difficulties
Your child might have an inability to chew; there might be muscle weakness or they oral sensitivities. This can make certain tastes or textures become unbearable. Oral sensitivities and difficulties can be addressed through occupational therapy.
Learning by example
Children can learn bad habits from their parents, siblings and peers. It also gives a child a sense of security too, if there are proper meal schedules. By having a set schedule for breakfast time, the mid-morning snack, lunch, the afternoon snack and dinner time help your children to know that there is a meal coming every few hours, and then they are less likely to go hungry. You should try and avoid giving your child snacks in-between the above-mentioned food times.
Respect the eating quirks
Everyone has a quirk around eating. Children, for instance, might enjoy a triangular- shaped sandwich but won’t eat a sandwich that gets cut into squares or that has crusts on. Foods that a child eats today, he might not be eating tomorrow and it is, therefore, important to realize that your child may react differently on different days to the same foods. It is not necessary, however, to offer a substitute food.
Promoting healthy eating
Having children as picky eaters are some of the common issues that parents face. Then there are the concerns over the hugely rising rates of childhood obesity. Parents are becoming are that they, along with their communities need to work together to change this trend. Here are some tips to get started in the trend to promote healthy eating as well as active living for your children:
- Committing to having family meals together: Having frequent family meals has been found to improve the quality of diet in children. Other advantages are that teens, having more frequent family meals, have a lower risk of drinking, smoking, doing drugs, etc.
- Creating a family meal that is mindful: So it won’t be just sitting together and debating, but it will be about “connecting” at mealtimes. There should also be rules such as no television, no phones and no texting at this time. Ask your kids to try a bite of all the foods, a “rule” at the table to thank the one who prepared the meal.
- Stay away from discussing body ideals, weight testing and dieting at the table, even despite the concerns around childhood obesity.
- Limit screen time, meaning computers, television, smartphones and gaming, setting limits for recreational screen time, i.e. something like no screen time for children under 2, around 1-2 hours for older kids with preferably no snacking in front of the television.
- Encourage children to be physically active, ensuring that they get at least an hour a day of real sweaty physical activity. Schedule some family outings of bike riding, walking, rowing boats, etc.
- Don’t forget the multivitamins with calcium and some vitamin D, as well as omega-3 fatty acids for the kids. The kids today overeat but are undernourished with the basic nutrients in their diets. Should you be concerned about this, speak to your doctor to see about boosting your child’s supplements.
Today’s child might be tomorrow’s leader
Finally, remember that you are the parent. Your children will reflect on your food choices for them. It is not totally necessary to forbid treats and sweets, but it is important to teach children about moderation as well. Healthy lifestyles are what they carry with them into the future. Children need their parents to teach them about the foods that are healthy for their bodies, and to be a model for eating good foods.
Create fun, but healthy menus with your children which will include foods that everyone enjoys. It is time to involve the entire family in selecting the food and in preparing the meals so that everyone understands how to make healthy food choices.
Truly today, one of the best things parents can do for their kids is to teach them to develop