Eating problems in young children

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Picky eater or eating disorder?

Many children are “fussy” about food, often suspicious of any new tastes or textures and this can be a problem especially if you are worried about them eating enough vegetables or getting the right nutrition in general.

Far fewer Children have an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa and this is far more serious and should be addressed by qualified professionals. Eating disorders are a serious mental condition and can kill. If your child is concerned about weight, has sudden massive weight loss and believes they are overweight, when they are clearly not, or if you suspect any form of eating disorder, get help immediately.

This article addresses picky eaters and suggests a few strategies for helping your child enjoy food and experiment with new tastes.

Picky eating and what you can do

  • Respect your child’s appetite. Mealtime should not be a battle and forcing children to eat will only cause them anxiety and make the problem worse. Serve small portions and give them the opportunity to ask for more.
  • Stick to a routine. Serve meals at the same time every day and don’t let them fill up on snacks and juice between meals.
  • Be patient with new foods. Talk about how good food tastes and let them experiment with small amounts. giving them the opportunity to try without being forced or bullied into it.
  • Don’t make separate meals for your fussy eater. If your child knows you will cook separate things for them if they refuse food, they are unlikely to try new foods and will just expect their favourite food for every meal.
  • Serve new foods with their favourite dip or sauce. They can then mix new foods with something they know they like.
  • Be a good example. Children take a lot of notice of their parent’s and the choices they make. If you have a healthy lifestyle they are more likely to copy and want to be like you.
  • Minimize distractions at mealtimes. Turn off screens and the TV and make sure that phones are somewhere else. Mealtimes are a social activity as well as about nutrition. Make sure you and your children enjoy these times so that they look forward to them.

Picky eaters are likely to grow out of the habit, but you must encourage them and treat eating as a family occasion. Remember to remind them how they cannot grow or be strong or fit like their favourite athlete or sports star without good healthy food!