How to avoid your baby becoming a fussy eater

by Catriona Watson |

Kids, eh? It sometimes seems like your baby turns their nose up at everything. Then as a toddler, they will only chow down on plain pasta or breadcrumbed nuggets and chips. Oh, and you’ll be lucky to get a tiny piece of veg on their fork, never mind past their lips.

Your toddler's emotions are all over the place which can often result in a mealtime meltdown. No one wants to find themselves pandering to the whims of a pint-sized food dictator, but how do you stop your kids being fussy? Well, if we try to understand why children have picky eating habits there are plenty of things we can do to encourage them. We fill you in on everything you need to know about fussy eating - how you should deal with it, what you should feed little ones and even a quiz to help you find out exactly what type of fussy eater your little one is.

Why are babies and toddlers fussy eaters?

A study on children's eating habits, conducted by global healthcare company Abbott, found that a  staggering 80% of UK parents have children who are fussy eaters. According to the research, some parents spend anything up to an hour EVERY meal time tempting their child to eat their food.

So fussy eating is clearly a phenomenon that lots of parents are dealing with. But why is it that toddlers are often picky about food? The simple answer is that most children go through a phase of picky eating between 1 and 3 years old. It may be down to developmental reasons: their weight gain is slowing, they are entering exploration mode and are less interested in sit down meals, they are demonstrating independence and starting to learn what they like and don't like.

Plus, picky eating is partly genetic. Some children are simply born fussier than others. Studies have shown, that how sensitive we are to certain flavours is inherited. We are hardwired to fear new foods, something that was handed down from our ancestors, as a safety device to avoid eating something poisonous. Similarly, we favour sweet foods over bitter ones as our instinct tells us the latter might be bad or even deadly.

A lot of parents worry about fussy eating because they fear their child isn't eating enough. Melissa Little, paediatric dietician says: "you have to remember the proportion of babies failing to put on enough weight is really tiny compared to those who are overweight’.

Instilling good food behaviour early is a great start but there are several reasons why your child might be refusing to eat that might not be down to being fussy, like teething or even just tiredness!

Fussy eating quiz: What type of picky eater is your child?

If you and your child are struggling with picky eating then it is important to understand why this might be happening. Research from the University of Illinois found that there are four major types of picky eaters. Each type describes children with very different issues with food, which each need to be handled in different ways. Take our quiz to find out what sort of picky eater your child is, so you can learn exactly what you can do to help them.

How to deal with a fussy eater:

We've compiled an exhaustive list of tips to help you deal with a picky eater. The advice comes from Mother & Baby experts: Professor Marion Hetherington, a biopsychologist at the University of Leeds, Lowri Turner, a nutritionist, Pixie Mckenna, a GP and mum-of-one and Melissa Little, a paediatric dietician. By setting the foundations of healthy, balanced eating with your little one now, you should be able to maximise your chances of fuss-free mealtimes and a healthy diet later on. Here’s what to do…

15 fussy eater tips and tricks:

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1) Encourage more adventurous tastes

Picky eating is partly genetic. Some children are simply born fussier than others. But that doesn’t mean parents should just accept picky eating. Encouraging a diverse palate can help to counter this tendency.

Professor Marion believes that what parents do during weaning – or ‘complementary feeding’ as she prefers to call it, to avoid confusion with stopping breastfeeding – can make a significant difference. ‘The period around complementary feeding is a sensitive one,’ she says. ‘Research has shown that if babies are given a wide range of healthy foods from six months onwards, they are likely to develop healthy eating habits.’

What should you feed a fussy eater?

If your child really is a picky eater, this is a tough one. Despite the difficulties you encounter, it is important to try and stick to a healthy diet for your toddler as best you can.

If you're trying baby led weaning, check out these brilliant finger foods to make mealtimes fun, or easy puree options to take the stress out of baby food prep. If it is nibbles you're after, there are plenty of delicious and easy picky-eater-approved snack options! If you're just starting out on your baby's weaning journey, check out the Start4Life weaning hub for tips and ideas to help you on your way and watch this video on how to get stuck in.

Once your little one is eating proper meals, try Annabel Karmel's recipes which are always full of healthy fruit and veg. Remember, food doesn't have to be complicated - some of their favourites are probably superfoods without you even realising. There are even certain foods which may help your little one stay focused and calm, possibly preventing those terrible tantrums - although, we can't promise anything!

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