THE SLIPPERY SLOPE INTO FUSSY EATING
I remember the day my friend’s baby was ready for lunch and I offered to help, Sophia was 17 months at the time.
I was a young mum myself, my baby hadn’t started eating solids yet. Without much thought I grabbed one of the baby food tins stored at Sophia’s house and asked her mum if I should warm it up.
She doesn’t like chicken
‘No she won’t have this one’ was her reply, ‘she doesn’t like chicken’. I then proceeded to prepare something else, which Sophia ate whilst watching her favourite cartoon.
Why do I remember this moment vividly? I was shocked, the tinned puree had seemed a perfectly good option to me at the time and I had never heard of food refusal amongst children.
Could it be over?
I just knew it couldn’t be over, right? I mean this child had refused chicken and she was never going to eat it ever again? In her life? As the years went by, Sophia’s refusals became the norm and many foods were ruled out. Going out to a restaurant became hellish between parents and daughter. ‘Could the child be having more chips?’ ‘That’s all she will have!’ ‘Better to eat something than nothing!’
Both her parents would then lecture Sophia on how unhealthy her eating was, the tension was palpable, the arguments ever-present. It was a slippery slope into picky eating, which my friends lost control upon very early. This caused them and their daughter a lot of angst and stress. Fast forward to 2018, Sophia is not a confident eater, she rules out many foods and diets occasionally. Her worried parents are still lecturing her about her food choices.
As a friend, I never got involved in those discussions, even though I often witnessed them and was informed of how concerned my friends were. I just knew it was a very sensitive subject, prone to make one feel guilty or inadequate as a parent.
It is tough for mums, no doubt!
It is especially tough for mums, because as mothers our relationship is based from the word go on nourishing our child. We are mothers and feeders and our child depends on us for survival! When things are difficult or not going according to plans, we may feel that we are failing our children. We may fear being judged for what we put in our shopping trolley or in our child’s lunch box. We may end up arguing with our partners about how we feed our kids. Complete strangers may comment on our baby or child’s size.
As a result emotions and confusion can run high. However there are numerous reasons why a child may be showing fussy tendencies and so within a family, as you raise your children in the same manner, you may have one child who eats everything and another who simply won’t. I certainly have those two children and people who work in the field often share their own similar stories: no-one is immune to having a more ‘sensitive’ child.
It’s not your fault
Understanding that this is not your fault is the first step towards successfully preventing your child from sliding down the slippery slope, read more here about 16 signs that your fussy eater needs help!
Now that we have removed mums’ guilt, well almost :), we can deal with fussy eating. The good news is: it works and dealt with early it will make your life easier! Indeed it is paramount to take a long-term view: our relationship with food carries on all of our life and as our kids will become adults, they will need to be comfortable and confident with how and what they eat.
You too can raise confident eaters with those 5 starter tips:
- Don’t take food refusal personally consider it is part of your child’s development.
- Offer food again and again to improve familiarity but cook it differently to improve your child’s tasting experience.
- Eat together as a family and share the same foods (most foods can be adapted to babies over 9-12months with a good food processor or finger-feeding).
- Avoid commenting on what is eaten, what should be eaten, or what is not eaten!
- Avoid labelling your child as fussy.
There are many more things you can do to raise a confident eater, try to implement fewer tips at a time so as to not to be overwhelmed or discouraged. Seek help if you need to be supported in your endeavour.
Marie-France is a qualified dietitian-nutritionist, from France, who has lived for 20 years in Australia. She has 2 children and a step-child, all in their late teens- early twenties. She has spent over 15 years researching children’s relationship with eating and used her dual-culture to inform her programs. She is also a “wholefoodist” and home economist who shares numerous wholesome family recipes via instagram.