Fussy-eaters not the fault of parents, but don’t cheer just yet

Fruit, vegetables and food

Parents can lose the feelings of guilt the next time their kids turn their noses up at the food prepared for them.

That said, parents may ultimately be responsible – through no fault of their own – thanks to their genes.

New research from University College London suggests it is genetics which primarily dictates how willing a child is to try new foods. Presumably this also accounts for the food ‘swing-o-meter’ — loving things one day and hating them the next.

It seems fair enough that — at least for babies and toddlers where social pressures, advertising and other external influences have not yet taken hold — food preferences must come primarily from their own nature.

Despite this, parents can still nurture their kids, encouraging them to try new foods.

Then again, I’m sure most parents have ‘safe’ fallback options which never seem to go out of fashion, are guzzled within 5 minutes, and leave everyone satisfied. In our house it’s bolognese – always a bonus as it’s much easier to sneak in some extra veggies without them noticing.

After a few nightmare days of fussy eating it can feel like a victory to get any non-junk food into them.

We’re not completely exempt from setting a good example though, and if we exhibit bad habits, it will hardly be any wonder if our kids do, too.

And without wanting to sound harsh, oftentimes if a child is hungry enough, they’ll eat whatever is put in front of them. So, although the advice is not to force kids to eat everything (and I agree with that) there’s also a time not to give in to kids’ demands for alternative (usually junk) food but instead continue to serve them the food even of they don’t like it.

Of course, you can’t starve your kids, so there has to be a caring balance. Just try not to cave in so quickly and give them chips every day.

In any case, I tend to find there are very few meals where every single ingredient is shunned. Meals with a wide variety of colours, shapes, textures and flavours may well ensure kids are eating well even if they don’t finish every mouthful.

It’s also important to gauge a child’s current food needs. Their portion sizes need to be in proportion to what they need, particularly in different growth phases or spurts. Sometimes it may be that they’ve simply been given too much food and are struggling to finish it. This shouldn’t be confused with fussiness.

NHS Choices offers these tips:

  • Eat your meals together as a family if possible
  • Give small portions and praise your child for eating, even if they only manage a little
  • If your child rejects the food, don’t force them to eat it. Just take the food away without comment and try to stay calm
  • Your child may be a slow eater so be patient
  • Don’t give too many snacks between meals
  • Try changing the form a food comes in – for example, try cooked carrots instead of raw or grated carrot

I’d also add in a healthy dose of encouragement as well as being a role model.

Sometimes, our kids pleasantly surprise us. I remember being blown away by my two daughters suddenly exclaiming how much they liked the ‘stew’ – even though they had bitterly complained about exactly the same dish for months beforehand, and regularly had to be coerced into eating it.

And finally, don’t labour the ‘healthy eating’ regimen at every meal time. It’s OK to build in treats, takeaways and pre-packaged occasionally, so long as they’re not relied upon as a staple of family meals.