Understanding Fussy Eating to Manage Your Child’s Nutrition Better

Learn why your child is a fussy eater and enable them to grow with the right nutrition during their foundation years

Nutrition is one of the key areas of efforts for parents during their kids' formative years, but a child’s fussy eating habits can be incredibly frustrating for a parent to manage. Before you resort to bribing them with a yummy dessert or fast food items like burgers and pizzas, let us explain why this happens.

Five Reasons why your child is a fussy eater

  1. Taste: Young children often have mature and sweet taste buds, an evolutionary survival mechanism when they are born. For example, they may not enjoy having vegetables as much as a sweet treat which turns them into rejecting healthier food and makes them a fussy eater. As they grow up, kids may increase their liking for bitter or sour food with repeated exposure and if they are accompanied with something sweet and as their taste buds evolve.

  2. Composition of food You must have noticed your child prefers foods such as slices of bread, cakes, breadsticks, crackers, chicken nuggets, chips, over anything else put on the table. The reason here is that they do not have to put much effort into chewing and swallowing these foods as they are processed foods with no added nutritional value to them. The second reason why the younger ones prefer these foods is that they are all starchy carbohydrates. A child prefers carbohydrates as the preferred source of fuel. And because brain development is relatively rapid during their formative years, young children have a strong desire for such foods.

  3. Distraction and Appetite: Have you ever considered spacing out the timings of meals and snacks for your children? It may often happen that snacking close to mealtime may reduce their desire to eat the meal and hence take the edge off their appetite. It is essential to structure mealtime and snacks, especially without any screen in front of them. This can lead them to overeat when they grow up or simply not eat enough.

  4. Spoon feeding: Children will, of course, eat more if their plates are loaded with food by a parent, but that is not what we are looking for in the long run. The aim for young children is for them to internally understand their hunger cues and fullness quotient. It's best to let them self-feed under parental supervision to naturally know and remember the feeling of fullness.

  5. Activity levels: If your child has been running around the park during holidays, has had a busy day or has over-exerted his/her brains visiting a new place, learning a new thing, it leads to an increase in appetite. If they have no physical activity at all, in that case, they might not want to eat as much as they usually do. This essentially means tiredness and activity levels have a direct impact on children's appetite.

How to tackle fussy eaters
Fussy eating is not just frustrating for parents, but it also leads to low immunity, low weight for age, and low height.

You can tackle your child’s fussy habits and teach the importance of healthy eating habits in the following ways - 

  1. Have set meal times.
  2. Choose healthy food options and introduce one new tasty and nutritious food at least once a day. Be patient as your child may require repeated exposure to new food before he/she adapts to it.
  3. Create a family table without any electronic devices or distractions where everyone eats together.
  4. Make it fun: be creative in how you present healthy but not necessarily tasty food. Add veggies to their favourite pasta, add a side of dipping sauce to the plate of broccoli. Have fun with it!
  5. Incorporate a nutritional supplement or drink into your child’s meal plan to make up for any missed meal or nutritional loss due to fussy eating habits, after consulting your paediatrician

How to tackle fussy eaters

Nutrition fundamentals that apply to all kids; Whether your children eat everything, are picky eaters, or will try anything once, it’s important for them to get the right mix of nutrients that will help them develop healthy bodies, strong bones, and bright minds. The early years, until the age of thirteen, are crucial for kids because they go through several mental and physical changes.

The following are the food groups and nutrients a child's meal plan should consist - 

  1. Protein: For building muscles, other tissues, and a healthy immune system
  2. Fruits and vegetables: For a nutritional fiber intake
  3. Grains: As a source of carbohydrates and energy
  4. Iron: For making healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen through the body and prevent anemia
  5. Vitamin D: For strong, healthy bones
  6. Calcium: It helps build strong bones which store nutrients for years to come.
  7. Healthy fats: For brains and nerve development, they also aid nutrient absorption and healthy metabolism
  8. Vitamin C: For a healthy immune system and brain, healing and absorption of iron

Active young children grow rapidly and need a healthy plate full of fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains, healthy protein, and oils. There are various colorful and tasty dishes such as poha, dhokla, upma, chicken curry, aloo matar sabzi, rice, dal, papaya, banana, a glass of milk with some flavoring or a tasty nutritional powder added are good options to try for a kid with fussy eating habits.

Dealing with a child’s fussy eating habits can be challenging but try not to get frustrated as this is typical behaviour of most toddlers. Just make healthy food choices available and know that, with time, your child's appetite and eating behaviours will evolve. You can also speak to your paediatrician to understand safe nutritional supplements that can be included in your child’s daily diet during this time so that your child’s growth is not impacted due to picky eating.

Disclaimer: This publication/article/editorial is meant for awareness/educational purposes and does not constitute or imply an endorsement, sponsorship or recommendation of any Products. Please consult your doctor/healthcare practitioner before starting any diet, medication or exercise.