what is fussy eating

A Complete Guide to Fussy Eating: Most Commonly Asked Questions

If your toddler is fussy about food, there are chances that he or she might not be getting all the nutrients needed for healthy growth. If you are confused about how to deal with your fussy eater, here is a set of a few FAQs which will clear all your doubts.

Q. My 4-year-old daughter only wants lemon rice for all meals and doesn’t want to try anything else. What should I do?

Looks like you have a fussy eater on your hands but there is no need to fret. It is quite normal for the younger ones to be fussy about what they eat. It is also normal for a child this age to eat a lot one day and reject the same food the next day. You will even find them relish the food that they absolutely “dislike” at your friend’s or neighbour’s. Being fussy about the food they eat is just a part of their development and growth. This is their way of exploring their environment, expressing their independence, and testing your patience! However, this isn’t a major cause for worry because as they grow older, they get less fussy and will grow to enjoy a wide range of foods.

Children are quite particular about why they like or dislike a certain food. It could be the shape, texture, taste or even the colour of the food that is the tipping point. Try and understand why your child likes only lemon rice. Is it the tangy flavour of lemon or is it the soft rice or the vibrant yellow colour or it could even be the addition of peanuts to the lemon rice that makes it your daughter’s favourite. If it is any of these, then try and encourage her to eat foods that are similar to what she likes. For example, if it is the tangy nature of the lemon rice, ask her to try mango rice or tamarind rice. If peanuts are her favourite food then add it to a vegetable pulao.

There is no hard and fast rule as to what gets added to pulao or what doesn’t! If it is the rice that she likes, then try and make her a rice and vegetable cutlet. If none of this works, then try giving her a small portion of lemon rice on the plate but encourage her to eat it after she finishes the other foods like vegetables, etc. on her plate. Yes, it is a long-drawn process that requires patience and encouragement but do persevere as you will soon have a child who will spread her gastronomic palate beyond lemon rice.

Q. If my child doesn’t like the food that I make for a meal, she skips the entire meal. Is this okay?

This is something that a lot of us face and do even as adults. If we do not like a certain food, we tend to skip it. However, skipping the entire meal because of one dish is unhealthy. Here are some ways in which you can make your child eat the food which she doesn’t like.

  1. Try and find out why your child doesn’t want to eat the entire meal.
  2. Try to think if your child has been forced to eat or punished earlier for not eating that particular food. Punishing your child for refusing to try or eat a certain food has negative consequences. If this has happened, then you might want to take corrective actions.
  3. A wonderful way to encourage children to eat something that they don’t like is to take their help in preparing that food. They take great pride in eating what they help in making even if they don’t like it.
  4. During the prep, you will also get to understand from them as to why they don’t like it. For example, it could be the sliminess of ridge gourd or the strong smell of cabbage that may be the deal breaker. You can correct it by making ridge gourd with dal to change the texture or mask the smell of cabbage by adding some masala to it.
  5. Encourage your child to try a spoonful at each step of preparation and point out as to how the aspect of the food they did not like has changed.

Q. Is it alright to use sweets as a bribe to coerce my child to finish a meal?

No, it is not. Using sweet treats like chocolates and ice-cream and tempting your child to finish eating may work fine for that meal or the next. He may gobble up his food just so that he could get to the treat. However, in the long run, this will make your child more interested in eating the treats and not the healthy food. It also sends a message that eating healthy food is boring and he will expect you to give him a treat at every single meal. If your child is particularly adamant and is used to getting his way, slowly the treat will be expected even before he starts the meal! So, bribing your child with a sweet to finish a meal is not a good idea.

Q. I feed my 4-year-old child while he is watching cartoons on my mobile phone. He eats fast and my work gets done. But my husband gets into an argument with me about this. What do I do?

Feeding a child while showing the birds outside the house or while watching TV has become quite commonplace. It is a very handy way to feed a child especially when the household chores have piled up. However, it has disastrous effects on the development of healthy eating habits in the child. Unfortunately, your husband is right this time around and screens should be banned during mealtimes. You should not feed your child while he is spending time on screen because:

  1. Children who are fed while they are distracted do not even realize what they are eating or how much they have eaten.
  2. Eating in front of the television or any screen creates a habit of mindless eating.
  3. Children who are routinely fed like this are unable to regulate their food intake which may predispose them to obesity, which can follow them into adulthood.
  4. They don’t realize when their stomach gets full and keep eating ignoring satiety signals as their attention is not on the food but on the cartoon. This can result in lack of self-regulation, especially when they come face to face with junk food.

You can do the following things to make your child eat more mindfully:

  1. Create an environment for mindful eating not just for your child but for everyone. Turn off cell phones and the television while sitting down to eat.
  2. Encourage your child to feel the food with his hands, chew consciously and identify the different flavours.
  3. Soon, you can start playing a guessing game with your child as to what is in the curry, which vegetable, or which spice, and so on.
  4. Make him aware of his satiety signals like fullness in the stomach after eating two rotis. Ask him if he thinks he can eat more or if it’s enough.

Watching television or cartoons during mealtime also affect children in another way. Advertisements shown during cartoons, particularly of junk foods, which are very common, can also wreak havoc on your child’s food choices. The adverts are so enticing that he would rather eat that than the food that is in front of him. So, in short, if you want a child who is not fussy about the foods he eats and is a child with healthy eating habits; ban the mobile during mealtime!

Q. I start getting tensed about mealtime. My 2.5-year-old is very picky about the food he eats, so I end up force feeding him and then everyone in the family starts shouting at me. What do I do?

Force feeding a child is counterproductive as it creates a negative perception of food. The child may start associating food with negatives feelings and may start detesting mealtimes. Just because your child refuses to taste a food doesn’t mean that he hates it. He may just be testing his independence to see how you react. Here are a few ways to tackle such situations:

  1. When this happens, try and stay calm and do not react. Most importantly, do not force feed him.
  2. Have a chat with your family members and gently ask them not to interfere with mealtimes and let you handle it.
  3. Create a happy atmosphere around mealtimes. Do not get tense while feeding as children are very intuitive and will feed off the tension you feel. They start getting stressed out and the entire situation then goes out of hand.
  4. Before you feed your child, make sure that he is not extremely hungry. Feeding a picky child on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster.
  5. As your child is still young and is developing, make sure that the foods you feed him are appropriate for his age, making it easy for him to eat.
  6. Avoid foods that stick to his upper palate, are very crispy or are a choking hazard like hard bread sticks or chikki. Provide him soft foods that he can feed himself.
  7. Cut out parathas using a cookie cutter into trees, animal shapes, stars, ships, etc. Play with textures.
  8. If your child does not like to eat pulses, try stuffing it in parathas or mash it and knead it along with chapatti flour or make it into a cutlet.
  9. Have a place at the dining table where both of you can sit and chat and tell funny stories while he eats.
  10. Try new foods along with him so that he knows that it is okay and yummy. Create happy memories around food that will last him a lifetime and will make him open-minded about trying new foods.

An important thing to remember is that if your child appears healthy, jumps and runs around and is eager to learn and explore, then she is eating enough. However, if your child eats only a small range of foods and misses out on entire food groups for a long period of time, then you might want to get her evaluated by her paediatrician.

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