Fussy eaters can be a handful. Amidst the rigors of their early development, parents have the added task of getting them to eat what is put in front of them. They’ll completely enjoy a certain food or meal one day, and the next they’ll show every disgusted emotion in their growing catalog. Mix that with funny sounds, a few tears of defiance, banging utensils, and more food on the table than on the plate (or in their stomach), and mealtime becomes a challenging experience. But, with a little extra effort—and a lot more patience and understanding—it doesn’t have to be.
Know this, parents: It’s normal for children to be food-selective. In "Are picky eaters born or made?" Boston Globe contributor Alyssa Giacobbe (referencing Anne K. Fishel of Harvard Medical School) notes that “kids are most physiologically amendable to liking new foods before the age of 2” with the disgust emotion subsequently emerging “at around age 2 to help protect the newly mobile from ingesting toxic substances and peaks between the ages of 4 and 8.” When a child prefers one food to another, parents tend to stick to this food in their meal regimen because they are happy their child is eating. While this is appeasing to both parties, sticking to the same foods has caused more and more kids to become fussy eaters far beyond age 8. It never hurts to branch out, and serve new foods that will slowly (and hopefully surely) ignite their taste buds.
While most children are fussy eaters, recent studies have found that a child’s unwillingness to eat could be directly related to their mother’s emotional state during pregnancy. As noted in
"Parents' anxiety, depression may lead to kids being fussy eaters" by Reuters.com columnist, Andrew M. Seaman, a recent study of 5,000 participants found that if a mother suffered from anxiety and depression during and after their pregnancy, there was an “increased risk of their children being fussy eaters” by age three. The researchers also found that “fathers’ anxiety during their kids’ early childhood was also associated with fussy eating.” As parents, how do we digest this information (no pun intended)? For starters, the parents shouldn’t feel guilty. Pregnancy is an emotionally-charged experience for both the mother and father, and these emotions are sure to cross over into the early years of a child’s life. But, we can try and do something about it by reporting any anxiety and depression to our doctor, and do our best to curb these feelings in favor of our children.
There are several ways to counter fussy eaters. Raisingchildren.net.au suggests that “your child’s willingness to try food will depend partly on the eating environment. Pleasant, low-stress mealtimes can help.” In relation, Fishel notes that “food fussiness can also be a response to tension at the dinner table, as anxiety levels rise among adults.” Parents should try to make mealtimes a happy occasion with lots of praising when new foods are introduced. Fishel also cites the “decline in shared mealtimes as a key factor in the rise of picky eating” and “if a parent offers good food, in a regular setting, a child will become a competent eater.” Kids love to constantly snack. If this is limited, when mealtime comes around, they'll be a little more eager to eat the prepared meal. The rise in distractions at the dinner table—AKA electronics—is also becoming problematic. Be sure to have any devices put away prior to coming to the table to reduce potential interruptions.
Mealtime is an important task for parents. It’s critical to pay close attention to their eating habits, provide nutritious, healthy and new meals as often as possible, and encourage family engagement during mealtime. It’s certainly illogical to think that our child is acting out against food because of our own emotional state, but research proves otherwise and it’s important any anxiety or depression is not dismissed. While it’s frustrating and confusing, selective eating doesn’t make the early years any easier. In fact, it just gets harder. But, that’s parenthood for you!
Picky eating is so common that there are many products designed to help you and your child. Courtesy of Buzzfeed.com, here are a few of these life-changing products: "13 Life-Changing Products For Picky Eaters"