This is a guest post
I think all parents dread fussy eating. Many of us have experienced it first hand and almost all of us know a child who is a fussy eater to one degree or another. Some kids will only be moderately fussy and the impact may be short-lived and relatively stress-free. Many others experience fussiness which has much greater ramifications. Mealtimes are stressful negotiations, characterised by food refusal, a beige diet and irrational arguments. For us as parents, it is a daily battle. Every. Single. Mealtime. Food is wasted. Energy is wasted. Meals that were enjoyed just days ago are now rejected. The dinner table is a battleground and outside of the home, it is even worse… few safe foods that our kids will eat without a fuss and many judging eyes.
Parents are probably right to dread their child becoming a fussy eater. It is hard and many parents are not equipped with the tricks, strategies and tools that can transform these anxious, exhausting times into a time of opportunity which should be celebrated.
Parenting is a wondrous experience… but it is hard. As a child grows, there is a seemingly endless list of skills and challenges for them to master. Many of these skills will come with relatively little intervention, from learning to clap to learning to walk or speak. These skills are learned without too much instruction from parents and, in the absence of unforeseen issues, kids pick them up as part of their natural development.
Then we have skills that do not come as easily; potty training, brushing teeth, reading, swimming, etc. These activities require a bit more effort and planning by both child and parent but they are necessary life skills so we make the effort to ensure that these skills are acquired. Take a look at any fridge in a household with young children; chances are that there are words to be learned stuck with them. If your local pool is anything like ours then the swimming lessons are full of kids working their way through the ranks from swimming with a noodle to doing a “push and glide” on their back by themselves. We invest our time and money in our kids developing these important skills. But, learning to eat, or more specifically, have a healthy relationship with food? We kind of just leave that one to chance despite the fact that this is a skill that can be taught and learned and has an impact on everyone’s daily lives and a profound impact on our kids’ futures.
For many families, the strategy is to simply do what our parents did to us; bribing kids with dessert, negotiating over a spoonful of peas or being made to stay at the table until a plate is finished. These tactics don’t work. They are frowned upon by medical professional for their overall impact in both the short-term and longer term. In the short-term, it is stressful for all concerned. Arguing over what is eaten at dinner times, battling over the consumption of veg, parents at their wit’s ends about nutrition and threatening to take away desserts. It’s exhausting… on a daily basis. In the longer term, these short-term fixes can lead to anxiety around food, a skewed perception of the value of food and an unhealthy fixation on desserts as rewards or comfort. The methods used by our parents with us are not only ineffective but they have spawned a generation with poor relationships with food which has contributed to ballooning cases of obesity and diabetes.
But what can we do? Isn’t fussy eating just bad luck…. or genes? Genes have been proved to have an impact on fussiness with children but it is a gene-environment interaction – fussy eating is a product of both BUT a child’s environment controllable.
But surely fussy eating is just a phase, won’t they grow out of it? Reality check; Some kids don’t grow out of it. Some kids are fussy for years. Some kids get to the age of going to Pizza Express for a birthday party and have to explain to their friends (and their friend’s parents) that they don’t like pizza because it has sauce on it. But yes, for some kids it is a phase and it will pass and be reasonably stress-free BUT does that mean that we should not educate our kids about eating so that they are armed with this skills for life?
Education and learning have moved on in so many ways over the past generation and feeding is no exception. New methods and strategies exist that empower our kids and lay the foundations for a positive relationship with food that can be built upon as they grow. If nothing else, implementing strategies to overcome fussy eating will end the daily mealtime battles that so many parents have with their fussy eaters… saving our resources to fight other battles!
Parenting is tough enough. We don’t need to battle with fussy eaters too!
Neil Welsh writes at Progressive Family Food, the website all about how to end mealtime battles and enjoy stress-free family dinners. Visit http://progressivefamilyfood.com/jaki-jellz/ for your free pdf on how to get your kid to try one new food. Trying one new food is the first step on the path to building a positive relationship between our kids and their food, for life.