Playing detective to determine the cause of your child’s eating habits

Mealtimes should be an enjoyable experience for both the parent and child; but there are times when instead, they become stressful and not fun at all.

For parents this is usually when they lack confidence as to whether they are getting feeding right or when the child refuses to eat what they are offered.

Food refusal or picky eating can be a normal phase of development; and it usually passes with time.

A small number of cases may be due to more serious issues though, like sensory intergration problems, reflux and iron deficiency. A healthcare professional can rule these out.

Healthy children will eat if they are hungry. In most cases when parents are offering the right foods and drinks in a structured meal and snack pattern; children’s eating behaviour improves dramatically. The information below will help you get this right.

What is a healthy diet for a child?

  • Children should be offered a wide variety of foods from all the food groups.
  • Limit the intake of processed foods and sugars
  • Encourage water as their main drink

When should I offer my child something to eat?

  • The recommended meal pattern for a young child is three meals and two snacks per day. Structured meal and snack times helps your child learn that there is a set time for eating.
  • Allowing them to graze throughout the day prevents them from getting hungry and having a good appetite when it is time for a meal.
  • Offer water if your child is thirsty between meals or snacks.

Where should my child eat?

  • Meal and snack times should always be at a table or in a highchair for younger children.
  • Whenever possible try and have family mealtimes and eat with your child so that they can learn from example.
  • It is not advisable to allow your child to eat in front of the TV as this distracts from the mealtime.
  • Avoid running after a toddler with food trying to force them to eat.

How can I encourage my fussy toddler to eat better?

  • Family mealtimes are essential in creating competent eaters – having meals with your children allows them to learn from example, makes mealtimes interesting and can take the focus off the disliked foods.
  • Produce one balanced meal for the whole family and dish up each component of the meal for everybody. Your child will be more likely to try new foods if they are on their plate.
  • Praise your child’s positive feeding behaviour and try to ignore and not give extra attention to negative behaviour.
  • Make the feeding environment positive by using child friendly utensils and crockery.
  • Mealtimes can be made more appealing by involving your child in the preparation.
  • Dips can make eating usually refused foods fun and tasty
  • Offer foods in small bite size pieces that are manageable and easy to handle and eat.

By Claire McHugh BSc (RD) – Paediatric dietician and the Pampers Institute Expert

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