Are your kids fussy eaters?
Before you condemn your little ones on not being open-minded about Brussels sprouts, new U.S. research suggests parents play a dual role in their kid’s eating habits.
A parent’s genetic makeup plays a part, as does acting as a role model to advocate good eating behaviour.
“If we ask ourselves, ‘Are fussy eaters born that way or do they learn it in the environment?’ the answer is ‘Yes; both are true,” says Myles Faith from the University of Buffalo, co-author of the two new studies, published in the journal Eating Behaviors and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
It’s especially important for children that show “higher emotional distress” or “difficult temperament” to have a reliable role model. Faith says these kids are the most likely to have a higher BMI (body mass index) through age 6.
“Parents may need a bit more understanding and patience when introducing foods to fussy or picky eaters,” Faith continued.
“The children really aren’t intending to be difficult. Being fussy seems to be their nature around new foods, and it can be quite distressing for them if they are overly forced, pressured or coerced. This can backfire and lead to greater frustration.”
From his years of research, including studies published in Obesity back in 2013, Faith has five recommendations for parents looking to set good examples for their kids:
- Eat healthier foods with your kids. “Don’t just preach,” Faith says, “but reach for the foods, as well.”
- Don’t give up so fast; repetition is key. “Children need many, many exposures to a new food before they might be more accepting,” says Faith. “Throwing in the towel after two or three brief exposures to a new fruit or vegetable probably is not giving a fair chance, and will be frustrating for everyone.”
- Keep portions in check. There’s proof that the amount of food kids eat will be more or less, dependent on how grub is staring them in the face. “So caregivers might supersize the fruit and vegetable portions, while reducing the portions of less healthy foods,” he says. “We might call this ‘strategic nudging.'”
- Remember to give them choices. “So parents can encourage children to make selections among a few healthier items,” he says. “For example, ‘Apple, grapes, carrots — pick one please,’ rather than offering no choice, but telling the children ‘Eat your vegetables.'”
- Don’t pressure or force them to do anything. Faith says any frustration or pushing will just lead to even more stubborn kids. “Strategies such as praise, reinforcement or a simple ‘thumbs up’ for healthy food choices generally are the way to go.”