Did you know that the experts do not have a universally accepted definition of fussy eating? Well parents know it when they see it, hear it, live it. Children eventually become more aware of the food that’s on their plate and offer a little resistance to eating for a while. However for some children being fussy about food is a lot more pronounced and challenging for them and their parents. What does fussy eating look like to parents and researchers? When is it time to get help?
Fussy eaters may:
- Show very strong likes or dislikes for specific foods. They often refuse foods such as vegetables, fruit and meat.
- Refuse foods that are familiar as well as foods that are new.
- Balk at the shape, the colour, the smell or the texture of foods.
- Thoroughly examine the food they are served.
- Prefer drinks to food.
- Have a limited range of foods that they will accept.
- Have strong expectations on food presentation, e.g will not accept foods that touch each other, or for it to be served with the wrong utensil.
- Show little enjoyment of food.
- Eat very slowly as they disengage at the dinner table.
- Have meltdowns, or display some level of anxiety when it’s mealtime.
What does the research tell us…
It is important to know as a parent that this is not your fault. Indeed you may wonder why child number 1 eats everything, while child number 2 is extremely fussy. Researchers tell us:
Fussy Eating is common in childhood
Reporting of fussy eating by parents increases from 19% to 50%, between the age of 4 and 24 months. At this stage the main culprit is food neophobia, a normal developmental stage for most children, who will outgrow their fussy eating phase. Unfortunately some fussy eating persists through to teenage years.
Fussy Eating may persist in adulthood
Some fussy eaters grow into fussy eating adults, but there is very little research as to the prevalence of fussy eating in adults. However 75% of adults who identified as fussy eaters said that the pattern started in childhood.
Fussy Eating and genes
Genetics traits may be partly to blame because the same genes that predict a child’s sweet tooth also influence the rejection of bitterness. For 1 person out of 4, known as supertasters, bitter flavours are perceived to a greater, unpleasant level. Aromas can also be challenging for some and depending on genetics a food smell can be pleasant or unpleasant.
Fussy Eating and Nutrition
Some studies report lower intakes of minerals and vitamins, others report less calorie intake, but there are also a number of studies finding no such worrying trends. The effect of fussy eating on growth trajectory in children and teenagers is unknown, but if you are worried about your child’s weight or growth the best thing to do is talk to your GP. Deficiencies in iron or zinc intake may have a negative impact on appetite.
Fussy eating and Constipation
Constipation may occur in children who are fussy eaters because they do no consume enough fibre. Constipation needs be addressed because it can make a child uncomfortable to the point where it affects their eating.
Fussy Eating, Allergies, Reflux and Vomiting
Lactose intolerance or food allergies and associated pain or discomfort may cause negative associations with eating.
Fussy Eating and Oral hypersensitivity
Children with oral hypersensitivity may also develop adverse reactions to feeding due to the abnormally strong and unpleasant sensation(s) with different types of food.
Fussy Eating and Autism
Children on the spectrum are more likely to be fussy eaters or selective eaters as they are sometimes called. These children may be uncomfortable with all sensory aspects of food and eating. A colour, a smell, a taste, a texture, a temperature may put them off. These children and their families will often need some help, to help them succeed.
Fussy Eating, Anxiety and ADHD
A study published in 2015, compared groups of children with moderate Selective Eating and severe Selecting Eating. They showed that both moderate and severe levels of SE were associated with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. As SE became more severe, the severity of Anxiety and ADHD also worsened.
Fussy eating is a cause of concern to parents
Parents worry when their child’s rejects nourishing foods; they worry about their child’s nutrition intake, growth and physical and mental development. This can affect parent’s confidence to cater for their child’s needs and causes negativity, struggles, and stress at mealtimes.
Social aspects to fussy eating
Fussy Eating can impact a child’s ability to socialise and to enjoy mealtime with the family. The longer fussy eating lasts the more repercussions on their social life as a child, a teenager and an adult. Fussy eating, when extreme can be debilitating.
When is it time to get help?
Most children will outgrow their fussy eating phase and the earlier parents start tackling the issue the better. Here you can download my free e-book to get you started. You can also listen to this podcast I did recently with ABC babytalk with Penny. I found that parents I work with, instinctively know when the issue is serious, they see that:
11. The range of foods their child is eating is not improving.
12. Their child’s ability to socialise (sleep overs, parties) is affected.
13. Mealtimes are unpleasant and stressful for all.
14. They have given up introducing new foods.
15. Their concerns have been dismissed (‘your-child-will-grow-out-of-it’)
16. They have been advised to starve their child, yet they know their child would rather go hungry.
They do the rounds adding worry to worry until they find someone who hears them. There are several types of professionals who can help: speech therapists, occupational therapists, dietitians and psychologists. It is important to choose someone who understands feeding as well as the pressure that parents and children find themselves under.
I am happy to talk to you about the signs of fussy eating and discuss strategies for you and your child. I give free 15 min consultations and, if you need more help, I can help you online or in your own home. So stop worrying and get in touch today.
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Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food.
(Taylor et Al. 2015) Appetite. 2015 Dec;95:349-59. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.026. Epub 2015 Jul 29.Picky/fussy eating in children: Review of definitions, assessment, prevalence and dietary intakes.
(Mascola et Al, 2010)Eat Behav. 2010 Dec;11(4):253-7. doi: 10.1016/j.eatbeh.2010.05.006. Epub 2010 May 27. Picky eating during childhood: a longitudinal study to age 11 years.
(Golding et al. 2009)Associations between the Ability to Detect a Bitter Taste, Dietary Behavior, and Growth
Article in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1170(1):553-7 · August 2009 with 17 ReadsDOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04482.x · Source: PubMed
Psychological and Psychosocial Impairment in Preschoolers With Selective Eating Nancy Zucker, William Copeland, Lauren Franz, Kimberly Carpenter, Lori Keeling, Adrian Angold and Helen Egger Pediatrics September 2015, 136 (3) e582-e590; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2014-2386