Home » Topic » Fussy eaters

What is the cause?
What should parents do if their child does not appear healthy and growing normally?
How should parents encourage their child to eat?
Tips for coping with fussy eaters
Written by : DoctorNDTV Team
Consultant Paediatrician & Neonatologist,
Indraprastha Apollo Hospital,
New Delhi
  • What is the cause?

    Every parent knows it is difficult to get children to eat nutritious food, whether it is a toddler who wants nothing but instant noodles or a teenager who lives on junk food and soft drinks. Children need to eat frequently to sustain their high energy levels and keep their bodies growing.

    Many young children go through periods of being fussy eaters and this is a normal part of growing up. Children often want to eat certain foods at a certain time and in a certain way. Many children, especially those from 1.5-5 years of age are sometimes picky eaters. They eat what appears to an adult as a small amount of food, and yet they are well, active and growing normally. The term “Fussy eaters” is not used for children who are breast feeding, only toddlers and children.

    Some babies are very fussy while feeding, while others tend to doze off after a few minutes of feeding. The mother is not sure whether or not he has had his fill. But no sooner does she put him in the cot that he is up again and crying for feed.

    It may be that while feeding he is not in a comfortable position, or his nose is blocked due to secretions or being pushed against the breast. In a bottle-fed baby, the hole in the nipple may be so small that the child tires easily.

    Fussy eating habits are more acquired. An anxious mother is more likely to have an anxious fussy eater. Making meal times a battleground can worsen the situation. Often there may be no obvious reason. The child’s nervous system may not have matured enough to realize when his stomach is full. Whatever the reason, it makes the mother tense, which, in turn makes feeding even more difficult. The mother gets frustrated having to feed every half an hour, and the child remains unsatisfied and irritable.
  • What should parents do if their child does not appear healthy and growing normally?

    In such a situation, it is important for the mother to remain calm and comforting to the child. Shift him from one breast to the other. If he still goes to sleep, put him back in the cot very gently. If he cries soon after, try to comfort him. May be you can give him a few spoons of water to pacify him. Sometimes nothing works and you have just be patient until the child quietens down.

    If a child is a fussy eater and does not appear to be healthy or growing normally, parents should take the child to a physician for assessment. A child should never be forced to eat a specific food. However, if a child is hungry and is given a choice of foods, he is more likely eat something. It is the role of parents to ensure that the foods from which a child can choose are all nutritious and appealing.
  • How should parents encourage their child to eat?

    We all know that a healthy, varied diet is important for our child's growing needs. But what should you do if your child turns up his nose at just about everything.

    Offer your child a wide variety of foods, he will get a balanced diet. It is better for him to eat something that he likes even if you disapprove of it than to eat nothing at all.

    If your child refuses to eat fruits and vegetables, try to make them more tempting or more fun, but do not camouflage a detested food by mixing it with something else. The child should eat because he wants to and for no other reason. Encourage your child to feed himself.
    • Serve food that is fresh and presented in an attractive way.
    • Create a mealtime that is pleasant and relaxed.
    • Talk about food; this may encourage a child to eat. Whenever possible, allow children to choose from one or two items on the menu (for example, a choice of peas or carrots for vegetables).
    • Give your child the same food you eat.
    You should be careful that the child is not overweight. Overweight kids are more likely to remain heavy as adults. This can lead to any number of health problems.

    Your child should eat a more balanced diet. Start by setting a good example. If other members of your family commonly eats lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products, your kids will learn to eat a good diet. Kids tend to copy their parents, so if you eat well, they are more likely to eat well too. Do not get angry and do not panic if the child refuses to eat. If you are concerned about your child's dietary intake, talk to your doctor or a dietician. Put less on your child's plate and praise your child for eating even a little. Try to make meals enjoyable and not just about eating. Limit snacks and drinks between meals. Drinking too much liquid can lessen your child's appetite. This will help ensure that your child is hungry enough to eat solid foods. Do not overfeed. Obesity in children is rarely recognised by parents and is a major health problem.

    Children's tastes change. One day they will hate something and a month later they'll love it. Fussy eaters are often slow eaters who dawdle over their plate. It is pointless trying to hurry them. Do not lose your cool at dinner. Simply remove the uneaten food.

    If you find that these techniques are not working, there are people who can help. A registered dietician who specialises in children's nutritional needs can assess your situation and provide strategies for dealing with a picky eater.
  • Tips for coping with fussy eaters

    Here is a list of things you can do to make it easier to cope with fussy eaters:
    1. Try to find meals that the rest of the family enjoys. Include one or two items that the fussy eater avoids, they may eat the items not knowing they are there.
    2. Try to serve smaller portions of food to your child
    3. Invite a friend of the child who has a large appetite. This sometimes works well.
    4. Invite an adult that the child likes for dinner like an uncle or friend. Sometimes a child will eat for someone else without any fuss.
    5. Do not force the child to eat.
    6. If your child is playing with his food, quietly remove the plate with no fuss.
    7. Make meal times enjoyable and talk about what the child is doing.
    8. Limit snacks and drinks between meals so the child feels hungrier when it comes to meal times.
    9. Offer drinks after a meal so that they don't ruin the appetite.
    10. Offer new foods when you know your child is hungry and more receptive to new tastes.
    11. Do not substitute milk for meals.

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