Fussy Eaters

My daughter hardly eats. I run after her, take her to the park, use pranks, force or even 'bribe' her to eat but she still doesn't. What should I do? I am totally frustrated and worried.

Questions like these seem to be a major concern for most parents with young children. Relax, you are not alone. Many children have eating difficulties at some point after the age of one or two. Although it is a real worry, in most cases, the child doesn't truly even have an eating "problem". It may be that a child who previously ate anything and everything you put in his or her mouth has now learnt to discriminate. He or she has finally developed a personality of his or her own that can assert for itself.

The important thing to remember is that children will eat when they are hungry; unless they have a medical problem. If a parent has become preoccupied by a child's eating, the child can learn to control or "blackmail" the parent through it by eating or not eating. Often the first sign of illness is a loss of appetite. But under normal physical and emotional conditions, children will eat when they are hungry and stop when they've had enough.

Your child may cringe at the sight of a nutritious dinner you have so lovingly prepared simply because his or her tummy is full of chips. It is but natural for parents to want their kids to eat foods that provide balanced nutrition. But the fact is, kids love junk food and will like having a lot of it. Don't deprive them of their after-school snacks but limit them if you expect your child to eat a full lunch/dinner. Try to incorporate healthy snacks in your child's daily diet regime. Pre-school children have small appetites and can't eat a lot in one sitting. They need healthy snacks between meals that are nutrient dense, high in energy, and easy to digest. Try limiting the quantity and go for spacing out the timings of the snacks, so that your child will be able to eat his regular food at meal times.

Meal times should be a pleasant experience and not a battlefield. A feeding problem is often the result of parents coercing their children to eat. You must remember that food fussiness is not due to the loss of appetite or a "sluggish liver"; it is an attention seeking prank by pre-schoolers. Make every effort to make your child look forward to those times.

1. Give the child the food he or she likes the best (amongst the nutritious ones) for 2 to 3 weeks and omit all the foods that he or she dislikes. This will help to make him or her less suspicious and tense about food and get them to come happily to the dining table.

2. If your son or daughter eats small portions, don't worry. Each child is different. Also, remember that day-to-day intake of food may vary just like your appetite does.

3. Try smaller portions (serve less than what you think your child will eat). Piles of food can often turn off a child's appetite.

4. Refusal of fruits and vegetables is a very common problem. Make them more tempting and/or more fun but do not camouflage a detested food by mixing it with something else. For instance, cutting vegetables in fun shapes may turn previously rejected vegetables into food that's fun to eat. A child should eat because he or she wants to and not for any other reason.

5. Children should be encouraged to feed by themselves. Often parents of fussy eaters feel that their child will eat more if they feed him or her. Consequently, he or she starts equating being fed with love and when his or her parents stop feeding at some point, he or she views this as a rejection and stops eating. Eventually, the parents give in and resume feeding. What does the child learn through this process? Manipulation.

One hears innumerable stories about the ploys used by parents to get their children to eat. Some have to tell them a new story with each mouthful; some have to take them outside to distract them; some have to bribe them with gifts. These tactics are not advisable. Bribes indicate to the child that eating is an unpleasant activity and one has to be compensated for it.

The key to tackling fussy eaters is to be patient. The more worried and anxious you are; the less is your child likely to eat. It takes time for children to develop good eating habits. A certain amount of freedom concerning their diet should be allowed by adopting a relaxed attitude. The best thing to do is to set an example by demonstrating good habits. Reduce your own intake of chips, soft drinks and junk food, and see the magic unfold!

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