Tips for the picky eater
Picky eating, Fussy eating, Choosy eating
So many names for a common worry amongst parents
How common is picky eating or fussy eating amongst pre-schoolers
Picky eating is a big worry for many parents. It’s no wonder when you look at the research and see that prevalence can be as high as 50% of preschoolers. Perhaps even a touch higher. You might have noticed I have highlighted the words perhaps and can be that's because at the moment it is very hard for researchers to determine the prevalence rates accurately. The prevalence rates in the literature range anywhere from 5-50% and all are in reputable research journals. The problem with picky eating, fussy eating or choosy eating at the moment is that there is currently no internationally recognised definition or assessment tool. So all the current research on prevalence rates vary widely. What I can say from my reading and my experiences is that picky eating is definitely an issue many parents are faced with and/or are worried about.
How much of a health concern is being a picky eater or fussy eater in the pre-school years?
There is some debate in the literature about the classification of picky eating. I am in the camp where I feel there is a wide spectrum of feeding difficulties and picky eating fits on this spectrum somewhere. I sit in this camp as I believe until there is a clear agreed way of determining what is or isn't considered to be picky eating it's hard to say how much of a problem it is or isn't. Some parents are concerned that their child won't eat spinach and may refer to their child as a picky eater. Other parents may have a child who is limited to eating as few as 5 to 10 foods. These two situations are quite different, all though both may cause concern for the parent.
I therefore strongly believe that Healthcare Professionals need to take parents concerns over picky eating seriously, question them closely to get a true picture of what meal times look like for that child and that family and refer on to specialist help when it is needed.
Parents also need to raise any concerns they have about picky eating with their Healthcare Professional rather than just dealing with it in isolation. It can be much more complicated then 'it's just a phase'.
In this article I am sharing practical advice that can help improve meal times. The advice and tactics are very general but hopefully useful. They are not magic bullets, and before you read on I want you to answer 5 questions to decide if you need to be speaking to a Healthcare Professional about your child's eating rather than just following my tips.
Feeding consultant Jo Cormack in her article ‘When is it time to get your picky eater specialist help?’ advises parents to ask themselves these five questions:
- Have you had their weight and growth checked by a health professional?
- Have you got reason to be concerned about your child's health?
- Have you investigated any other unusual or worrying behaviours or traits that you have noticed in your child?
- Is your child genuinely anxious around food?
- Are mealtimes consistently stressful for you or your child?
Let’s think about these points in a little more detail:
Is my child's picky eating a problem?
1. Have you had your picky eater's growth checked?
If you have concerns about picky eating and your child’s nutritional intake, then getting their height and weight checked is a good place to start. It will either:
a) Reassure you that your child is growing well
b) Confirm your suspicions that all is not ok
c) It will have started a conversation with a Healthcare Professional about your worries
2. How is your picky eater's over all health?
Are they robust, bouncy and fall of energy. Or are they tired, sleeping poorly or pale? How about digestion, do you have any concerns in the poo department? Have a think and if you have any concerns head to the GP for a check up
3. Are mealtimes a stressful time?
I want you to think about this from both sides. Are there tears and tantrums at the table from your child. Are you finding meals stressful, feeling overwhelmed or angry? If the answer to these questions is yes always, or yes most of the time then it is worth seeking further help. If the answer is r occasionally then welcome to the club. Meal times are not smooth sailing 100% of the time, in any household with preschoolers. If a mum tells you there is never a tear or a stressful moment at meal times at their house. They are either lying, or you need to get hold of some of the mystical unicorn tears they are using!
4. Is your child genuinely anxious about food?
This is a ‘Gut Feel’ question. As a parent you will have a gut feel if what you are seeing is toddler tantrums or the life of a ‘threenager’. If your gut tells you that your child genuinely feels anxious about food, is overly worried about new foods, new textures, and meal times in general. Then seek extra help from a Health Professional.
5. Are there any aspects of your child’s behaviour, traits or development that you are worried about?
Do you have concerns about more than just picky eating? If so, stop googling (if you have been) and speak with a Healthcare Professional. You will either receive reassurance about your concerns or start the process of receiving the support for your child. Both outcomes are a positive step forward.
Ok. If any of the 5 questions above raised any alarm bells, waved any red flags or made you stop pause and think for a bit. Then my next article isn’t the one for you. If you do have concerns your next point of call should be a Healthcare Professional, GP, Paediatrician, Early Childhood Nurse, Feeding Specialist etc.
If the 5 questions haven't raised any concerns then let's get on with the show. Head over to my next article 7 tips & tactics to improve meals with a picky eater