How to Make a Fussy Child Eat?
Babies have high growth rates and large appetites. But as they grow into toddlers, their growth rate reduces and their appetites decrease too. Fussy eating is a common phase during preschool years, making mealtime challenging for parents. Children, at this age, are developing food preferences and we need to ensure that they get balanced nutrition and nourishment, along with their favourite snacks. Furthermore, we need to keep their physical, mental, and emotional development in check.
Some children might be fussy eaters for a short while, but this phase might persist for some others. Long-term picky eating may lead to serious health problems, including:
- Nutrient deficiencies
- Low immunity resulting in ill health and infections
- Impaired cognitive development
- Growth retardation
- Fatigue and tiredness
There are many reasons why kids might refuse to eat their food. It's important to recognize which type of picky eater you are dealing with, to end your mealtime struggle.
The Flavour Hater:
Toddlers have an aversion to strong flavours, so when they become active, they become pickier, especially when it comes to bold and bitter flavoured foods. Parents may think it's easy to cater to picky children by offering mostly simple, bland foods. But children may not expand their palate if you cater to their preferences.
- Make children taste more flavours, by introducing new foods with an appealing look.
- If the kid likes bread, prepare a sandwich with grated vegetables and cheese rather than just adding jam. If the child enjoys the meal, then include other ingredients in the sandwiches, such as paneer, potatoes, eggs, etc,.
- For flavour, add natural taste enhancers like mayonnaise, powdered pepper and salt.
With this trial method, parents can explore the food preferences of their children.
Allow kids to smell, touch, and lick the food first to get comfortable!
Also check out some award-winning multivitamin gummies for kids by Nutribears.
The Feel Hater:
Kids have a difficult time with texture because they have a wide range of chewing abilities. Due to dissatisfaction with texture (hard/smooth/creamy/chewy/crunchy), children reject certain foods.
- Explore different textures with children, by providing them with a raw slice of carrot, a spoonful of porridge, boiled vegetables, or tender baby corn to identify their preferences.
- Introduce more varieties in texture rather than mushy, creamy foods. Allow children to choose and eat by themselves rather than forcing them to eat a particular food.
- Proper seating arrangement while eating is necessary to support effective chewing for kids.
- As the kids relish their foods leisurely, parents must be patient to allow children to take their time rather than panicking about the amount of time they are taking to eat.
As kids grow, their texture preferences change accordingly!
The Visual Hater:
Some kids become fussy when the food on their plate is not well presented. The appeal of the food might depend on how well it is presented. They might be tempted to eat food that is colourful and organised into a meal plate. Provide them with more options – Egg toast + Almond milk + Dosa with curd/ dal chutney.
- Instead of plain khichdi/ upma, add more crunchy, colourful vegetables to the upma. Variations make them more palatable.
- Crispy dosas can be substituted with soft uthappams with curd or sambar.
- Instead of regular Vermicelli, try Wheat/ Ragi/ Jowar Vermicelli to provide a colourful platter.
Make food palatable, appealing and presentable!
In order to encourage a child to explore food without hesitation, they need time and space to try new foods. The tips below can assist you in integrating healthier eating habits into your child's meal if they are picky eaters. Whenever possible, begin incorporating them in a way that works for both; you and them.
Be a role model:
When you eat with children, tell them to taste your food a little and allow them to express how they feel about a particular food. If they like any specific choices try a healthy variation of the same thing.
- Make sure parents are making healthy choices while dining with kids. Avoid introducing them to fried/ junk foods at a young age. E.g., French fries, burgers, pizza, cakes/ pastries.
- Dine-in for a complete meal with the family (Indian thali/ starters/soups/sweets made with jaggery). This allows children to explore more varieties with nutritious meals.
- Don’t compare children with others. As each kid’s appetite/ calorie requirements differ from others.
This concept should begin immediately when the child eats solid food.
- Eat together as a family. Don't comment on how your child eats. Don't force the child to take a bite of anything; Tell them what you like and let your child make a mess.
- It is much easier for your child to try one broccoli floret than it is to stare down a whole cup of broccoli, and with small portions, your child can decide how much of it they want as well as ask for more if they want more.
- Family dining lets the child explore more varieties, flavour, textures, cuisines and creates a comfortable feel with food.
Parents need to pay attention to their child’s hunger pangs and plan mealtime accordingly. If the mealtime begins late then the child becomes cranky/ fussy/ adamant towards food.
- Consider your child's behaviour during meals.
- Make sure the child is hungry before the meal.
- Observe the child’s emotions during and after the meal.
- It is normal for children to prefer certain types of food over others. If certain foods are rejected by your child, remain positive and keep trying to offer healthy food in different ways.
- Be flexible about mealtimes to accommodate your child's schedule.
Have a balanced meal plan for your children when you plan their menu. Include all food groups for proper growth and development. Restricting particular food for a long period makes them deficient in nutrients.
- Involve kids while shopping for groceries. This creates interest for children to choose among a wider range of fruits and vegetables. Moreover, they feel elated when their preferences are cooked and served.
- Engage them in the cooking process; washing/ peeling vegetables, mixing the ingredients, asking them for help to bring an item from the refrigerator.
- When kids are involved in different steps of cooking, they will be eagerly awaiting to relish the food. Surprisingly, kids will enjoy it.
- In this process, sometimes kids will also reveal why they like particular food/fruit/vegetable.
When a child accepts a food, nutritionists recommend using "food bridges" to introduce foods with similar colour, flavour, and texture to make mealtime more palatable. If your child enjoys salty food, try tossing vegetables like capsicum, broccoli, paneer with salt and serve them.
- So, we are introducing additional textures like crunchiness (capsicum) and softness (paneer cubes) along with salty food.
- The child then starts exploring different forms of cooking methods, unknowingly.
Be responsive while feeding the child and manage the mealtime according to the child's eating behaviour.
- Don’t encourage them to watch television while feeding. In a hurry, the child will swallow/ gulp the food without chewing.
- Don’t provide mobile phones during feeding. It makes them get distracted from their food and they might overeat without realising it.
- Read a storybook or play with the child to motivate them to eat.
- Engage them in any activity while feeding and ask them whether they want more food/ need water to drink/ would like to have other options too.
If your toddler is unable to enjoy the taste of unfamiliar foods, try pairing them with foods that they naturally prefer (sweet and salty). For instance, broccoli (bitter) and grated cheese (salty) make a great combination.
- If the child loves pizza, make pizza dosa – add sliced/ chopped vegetables (Onion, carrot, capsicum, cabbage, tomato, coriander leaves) with grated cheese, crushed pepper, and salt to the dosa.
- This is an excellent way of introducing vegetables to children who are usually fussy about eating vegetables.
It may take a child a little longer to try new foods and overcome eating issues; be patient. Fussy eating is a phase in a child's life where a parent needs to be patient, be creative, and encourage healthy eating habits. It is important that a toddler gets all the nutrients to grow up healthy.
In general, kids tend to consume one type of food for a period of time and then switch to another. Look at their intake over a period of time rather than what they consume in one meal. As a parent, if you are still confused with your child’s eating habits consult a child nutritionist to address your concerns.