We knew it wouldn’t be THAT easy to help with your fussy eater (See our previous article here), so we have put together another tool for your tool belt in combating those picky eaters and potentially identifying an underlying reason for their food choices…
For some children fussy eating is a phase, it is a short stage, as for toddlers who are so busy discovering things that they can seem uninterested in food. For others it will become a problem as they do not learn to eat nutritious foods or vary their diet and will need your help to ‘educate their palates’.
Fussy eating varies in it’s degree. There is the typical fussy child who simply hasn’t learnt that vegetables are tasty foods; then there is the difficult eater who limits their foods for various reasons (see ‘Why a child limits their food choices’) and then there is the problem feeder who literally only eats 3 or 4 foods or only foods with a certain texture. These tips are to help those who are fussy or difficult eaters, problem feeders need specialised help.
The fussy eater
- Limit the intake of milk during the day. Milk is an appetite suppressant.
- Start using the new food before taking away the old food you want to replace, so that your child learns a new taste but has the security of old tastes at the same time. Useful when wanting to move from wheat pasta to gluten free or wholemeal; white bread to wholemeal bread; white rice to brown rice and so on. Begin with using the new food every 2nd or 3rd time mixed in with the familiar food then increase until it is being used consistently.
- Mix half & half of old foods or drinks to new foods or drinks. Keep increasing the ratio until the old food is fully swapped for the new food. Works fantastic when changing over milks and yoghurts to better quality ones, peanut butter for nut butters, sugary cereals for better quality ones etc. Some children need you to go slower and the ratio of new food to old may need to be lower -to the point that the child can’t taste any change- then gradually increase until the new food has been fully substituted for the old.
- Make food a little different each day eg. vegetables can be added as purees to pancakes, meatballs or sauces. Or crunchy as chips, fries or fritters. Or covered with a different sauce or presented with a dip or dressing. Sometimes just a different way of presenting a food is all it takes.
- Don’t be afraid to use salt to make a meal flavourful and appealing, especially when you are trying to revamp a favourite but poor quality meal into a more nutritious one. It will help them make the switch from the highly flavoured processed foods. Use Herbamare or a good quality salt such as Celtic Sea Salt or Pink Himalayan Sea Salt that retain the minerals of the sea. Let them determine how much to put on and you will find they will naturally limit their intake as the body becomes satisfied from the minerals available and as tastes adjust. This will not work with regular table salt because it is highly processed and only contains 2 minerals.
The Difficult Eater
These are the confirmed veggie haters who eat only sweet foods, starchy foods and junk foods. This kind of diet is often called the Beige Diet because there is little to no colour variety involved. To begin with you may need to hide vegetables as purees or grated into meals. Still follow the above general guidelines but you will need to be more specific in how you go about introducing new foods.
- Always provide food your child likes eg. chips (preferably homemade) at the same time as the new food. This way if they don’t eat the new food they will still have had a meal of some kind.
- If your child doesn’t eat what you have prepared, don’t make them another meal because you are worried they will be hungry. This just trains your child to resist until you give in. This is why you need to always have a food you know they will eat at the same meal.
- Snack time can be a great time to introduce a new food. This is when a child notices they are hungry and they are more likely to try something new. Remember to vary the way the food is presented or prepared so that your child has the chance to discover that food can be made to taste different eg. frozen peas may be nicer than cooked peas. If they refuse the new food, then explain that they can wait until dinner to eat. They will be a little hungrier again at dinner and again more likely to try something new.
- Introduce the new food on a separate plate if your child is likely to be very resistant to anything new, so that they don’t feel the whole meal is spoiled. Everyone else at the table gets a serve of the food too and can remark on how delicious it is. Just don’t be over-enthusiastic as children are quick to pick up on falsehood. You may need to make the introductory process very extensive:
- At the first introduction, let them get used to it. Talk about how it looks, feels (allow them to touch it), how it smells. Explain if the food is sweet, salty or sour, pointing out that one of their favourite foods is sweet, salty or sour too.
- Next time, have them lick it, but they don’t have to eat it.
- Next time, ask your child just to chew it and spit it out.
- Next time- it’s time to eat it! Only a minimal amount such as 1/2 tsp and make sure your child is aware of the natural consequence of trying the new food. For example, now that ½ tsp has been eaten it is time to play, or watch their favourite TV program i.e. life can now go on.
- Gradually increase the amount eaten at each serving until it becomes a tolerated food and you can begin the process with another new food. It doesn’t have to be a liked food, but it is a food that is eaten when served.
- Remember to vary the way the food is prepared- the food may not be the issue- just the way it is presented or prepared.
- Remember that most of us will have a food we just don’t like and your child will be the same. There will be some definite dislikes and it is our job to distinguish between a true dislike and a food that is not preferred but is tolerated enough to eat it.
- Don’t get so emotionally attached to your child trying the new food that if all your attempts fail you become angry or upset. Keep calm! Avoid pushing or forcing so that you can maintain trust. Some children need multiple attempts at a new food, more than the standard 10 times, so persistence is the key. You are working on training your child to appreciate wholesome & healthy food and this is not an overnight process but will take a number of years as for most things with raising a child.
- If you were a picky eater as a child consider having the other parent feed the child. This avoids you projecting your own dislikes onto the child and limiting the education of their palates.
You may need to use rewards for eating a new food but this should only be a last resort and is more a tactic used for problem feeders. It is better to work at making the new food so tasty that they will eat it, for which it is worthwhile experimenting with new recipes to learn what works.
Why a child limits their food choices.
These are especially applicable to the difficult eaters who favour the Beige Diet.
- To wheat and dairy based foods. The protein in wheat (gluten) and in milk (casein) may not be broken down properly by the digestive system. The proteins can then create compounds that within the brain are capable of giving the person pleasant feelings ie eating lots of bread and crackers helps to keep the person calm and happy. So the foods are basically creating opiates which can become quite addictive and reinforces the cravings for such foods
- To chemicals (such as MSG, flavour enhancers, artificial additives) which behave much like the protein based opiates from wheat and dairy. MSG and flavour enhancers in particular stimulate the brain and reinforce how tasty the food is. Again, this makes the person feel. good which drives the cravings and preferences for highly flavoured and processed foods. A lot of these chemicals are irritating to the brain and are a key factor behind hyperactivity.
- Nutrient deficiencies:
- Zinc deficiency can make all foods taste bad or bland. This is common especially in children with autism. Since food tastes boring or unappetizing, texture becomes more of a feature and if the texture is unappealing because of sensory sensitivities, then the food is rejected.
- Magnesium deficiency keeps a child from being able to relax and calm down. So foods that seem to provide this such as wheat and dairy are sought after.
- Microbial overgrowths in the gut. The ‘bad’ bacteria love to feast on carbohydrates and sugary foods and will drive cravings for these foods.
- Sensory sensitivities can cause a child to only like certain textures. For instance, crunchy food may be too loud, mushy foods can feel disgusting and so on.