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The five W's of fussy eating

An overview on fussy eating

Over the next five weeks I will talking on the WHAT, WHEN, WHY,  WHO & WHERE of fussy eating

WHAT is fussy eating?

I'll start off with the hardest question as there isn't actually a definition for fussy eating which is why it is so hard for parents to know if they should be concerned about their children's eating habits or if it is just a temporary phase . Generally children fall into one of two categories : they are reluctant to eat in general and mealtimes are a slow long process with little interest in foods ; the reluctance is not usually specific to any foods. The second type of fussy eater refuses to eat certain foods which are usually new unfamiliar foods and this is termed food neophobia. 

WHEN does fussy eating happen?

Fussy eating is most common between the ages of 1 and 3 years of age and the majority of children will outgrow picky eating habits however some children may carry certain food aversions with them later on in life for example refusing to eat scrambled eggs but eating boiled or fried eggs. Fussy eating is most common during 1-3 years because of the development changes the toddler is going through as well as them starting to understand their own independence. At the age of one it is recommended that children be eating similar meals and foods to the rest of the family so at this age there will naturally be an increase in the foods the child is exposed to and offered which can be new and overwhelming for a child but part of development process.

WHO is more likely to become a fussy eater?

Are certain children more likely to be a fussy eater? Fussy eating can result as part of the normal developmental process that a toddler goes through and so in essence any child could be likely to become a fussy eater. There are however certain circumstances which can increase the likelihood of a child becoming picky with their food. Research has shown that children who are offered a variety of foods from a young age and are given foods similar to what the rest of the family eats are less likely to become fussy eaters. Children learn from their parents so if parents display certain food preferences or restrict their intake of certain foods, it is likely that the toddler will pick up on the parents habits as well. Fussy eating can also result after a bout of illness or sickness as a child's appetite is affected greatly by them feeling unwell so children who are ill frequently or have chronic illnesses or conditions may be more prone to becoming a fussy eater. There is a chance that any child will become a fussy eater so it is important to offer a variety of foods similar to what the family eats and also create a calm relaxing atmosphere towards eating whilst allowing your child a certain amount of independence and responsibility in the eating process.

WHERE does fussy eating happen?

Does picky eating occur more in a certain place than in others i.e in the home , at school or in public or where does fussy does usually start. Fussy eating generally will start at home as this is  where a child eats the majority of their meals and also where they learn eating patterns from their parents as discussed earlier. In some cases fussy eating can improve when a child goes to school as he or she is experiencing meals in a more social environment and has a higher exposure to seeing other kids trying or eating new or different foods . If a child is a fussy eater , it may mean eating out may be difficult due to limited options the child might like on the menu so try order something the child does like with something they don't rather than something completely new. I often encourage parents to help their child to make their own personalised placemat and take that with them when eating out as it allows the child to be comfortable and have some stability. Mealtimes are often an emotional battle between parent and child it doesn't mean it wont be the same when eating out. If a child becomes anxious towards mealtimes , it can sometimes help to change the eating environment so create an indoor picnic inside with blankets or even better pack a picnic basket and have lunch or a meal with your child at a nearby park to help create a more relaxed environment.

WHY does fussy eating happen?

Fussy eating can occur for a number of reasons but very rarely is it linked to an underlying medical condition. It can occur due to a number of various different reasons. One cause of fussy eating which can be medically related is if a child has been sick, this is because their appetite is usually the first thing to get affected during illness. The child could associate a food with the illness for example if they ate chicken and beef the night before and then randomly got a tummy bug the next day you might find they become averse to eating that food. One of most common reasons for fussy eating is that it forms part of the natural development process of a child. From the age of one, toddlers are learning to be more independent and more autonomous and there is a fight for responsibility and this can cause power struggles between parents and child during mealtimes.

Fussy eating can also be as a result of a demand for attention as toddlers begin to recognize that by refusing food or using the word "No" they get more a reaction from a parent. It is also interesting to note that fussy eating can increase if a younger sibling is born and the toddler uses food refusal as a demand for attention away from the sibling. Family or parental food behaviour is another main cause of fussy eating. The eating habits of a parents or family can have a direct impact on a child's food choices. Other reasons for fussy eating could be due to neophobia, which is the fear of anything new and which results in a child taking in limited number of foods. Picky eating could also be as a result of sensory aversions and certain fears or anxiety towards food textures. The majority of the time a child will outgrow their fussy eating once they move past the toddler stage as it forms part of their journey toddler the early years.

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