- Kanika Arora
We all have heard the terms ‘Picky’ or ‘Fussy’ eaters and we tend to associate these words with negative behaviour towards food especially in younger children. In toddlerhood, some children show signs of pickiness. A Picky/Fussy Eater can be described as a child who displays an unwillingness to try new food items or refuses to eat food that he/she may be liked eating earlier. This can happen due to various reasons like personality traits, dislike towards a particular taste, smell or texture, etc.
HOW TO OVERCOME FUSSY EATING HABITS?
If a child refuses to eat a certain meal/snack or can't stand its smell/appearance, parents should neither pressurize the child to eat it nor should they stop serving it completely. On the contrary, parents should try a new recipe with a food item the child already knows and likes. If a child doesn't like to eat broccoli but likes eating cheese, presenting the rejected food under a different light can help sometimes, for example- serving broccoli with melted cheese on top, this helps the child to associate a food item, he/she sees negatively in a positive way.
Try to serve at least one meal/snack in a day that contains one or two foods that a child likes which could either be a fruit or a vegetable, protein, dairy or a whole grain product, with the ones that parents want their child to try and explore.
Asking a child, a question like “Would you like to eat an apple or a banana today?”, gives him/her the opportunity to choose and decide. In addition, if the kid likes peanut butter, let him/her try to put it on an apple or banana, whichever fruit the child chooses to eat. Respecting a child’s choice is very important. Regularly pressuring children to taste or eat new food items might create unnecessary tension between parents and them.
DO REWARDS WORK?
Forcing and bribery could also turn a simple thing such as eating in a child’s everyday life into a negative experience. We often hear parents or family members before offering food to a kid say, “Finish your beans, then you can have your favourite candy.” Giving a candy/treat which is either high in sugar or fat content as a bribe can often lead on to sending mixed signals to a child. If given repeatedly, a child might start associating that eating a candy/treat is fine which isn't.
Positive reinforcement works much better than actually forcing a child to eat. It could be in any form, for example- giving a high-five, clapping and cheering, offering verbal praise, hugging or giving a pat on the back, etc. Offering a child, his/her favourite dessert or candy once in a while is considered normal but it doesn't mean that the kid should receive a candy whenever he/she tries to taste a floret of broccoli.
Parents may also try to surprise children by offering verbal praise with a reward after they’ve finished their food. For instance- “Wow, I'm so impressed with you, you've been finishing your meal without wasting, I think you will get a chocolate cookie today”. Research shows that kids who receive encouragement are willing to try new food items than the kids who don’t. Kids should get to know that their efforts are being recognized and appreciated.
As long as a child is playing, jumping, running around and is happy, he/she is most likely getting all the nutrients that his/her body requires. Cutting down the pressure and making meals enjoyable as much as possible results in boosting a child's overall health. As children grow over the years their eating behaviour and appetite are sure to level out.
Lastly, we have to remember that patience is the key.