Fussy eating guide for children and teenagers
It's a huge problem for parents to get their kids to eat well. Quite often, at various stages of development, children will start to go off foods that they had previously eaten. It can often seem inevitable that the foods they tend to go off of are green and good for them.
But, problems can arise when children are only eating certain foods and their nutrient status becomes depleted.
There may be nutritional reasons for fussy eating and, if you address these, your child may start to eat better. Fussy eating can lead to a lack of nutrients, exacerbating the problem as well. It can lead to fatigue, low immunity, dental problems, obesity, eating disorders and other mental health problems.
Here are a few possible reasons children develop fussy eating and ways to help improve and increase their choice of foods:
As a child has a more limited diet they may start to develop deficiencies. Lack of zinc can lead to a loss of taste, smell and appetite. Furthermore, if the food has no taste it can then lead to texture being a problem for some kids.
Increase zinc-rich foods into the child’s diet, including pumpkin and sunflower seeds. You could buy a seed or coffee grinder or buy them ground, so you can sprinkle them on your child's breakfast each morning. Beef and seafood are also good sources - you can make curries, casseroles, and cottage pies and always add vegetables to them.
Supplementation may benefit the child; there is usually a good level of zinc in a multi-vitamin.
Low stomach acid may lead to feelings of discomfort and bloating in a child. Stomach acid helps break down and digest proteins. If stomach acid is low then protein food may linger around too long in the gut causing discomfort. The child may associate this with protein-rich and food and stop eating it. Protein is essential for maintenance, growth, mood and movement.
What to do: Always sit at a table when eating - do not allow iPod’s, TV, phones or computer games when eating. Make eating a ritual - the body needs to be prepared for digestion distractions may confuse the body and it will not prepare itself for digestion and absorption.
Foods that may help with low stomach acid are: apple cider vinegar on salad dressings and vegetables, papaya and pineapple also contain digestive enzymes, which will help break down proteins.
Drink water throughout the day - staying hydrated helps with stomach acid but do not encourage large glasses of water at mealtimes as this may dilute the foods.
Supplement: Caricol – pureed papaya.
If children are intolerant to wheat and dairy they may not be digesting it properly. Large food particles can escape into the bloodstream causing an opiate-like response to the food. This is a feel-good response when eating the food the child is intolerant to, this then can lead to cravings.
Yeast overgrowth can also lead to carbohydrate cravings. When a child craves a certain food suspect an intolerance or yeast problem.
What to do: A nutritional therapist can advise on testing for intolerance and give advice on possibly eliminating a food from the diet.
Chemicals such as MSG are found in processed foods and children may become addicted to these chemicals. This is why they may only choose a certain brand of food i.e. McDonalds or a Domino pizza.
What to do: Try to home-cook these favourite foods so make your own pizza at home and get them to help, introduce slowly at first.
- Eliminate and address any food intolerances.
- Increase zinc-rich foods and supplement if need be.
- Make food interesting! Taste, texture and the way it looks can have a dramatic effect on the way a child sees food. Roast kale and cauliflower in the oven with olive oil and turmeric - it is similar in taste and texture to crisps. Use dips and encourage children to dip carrots and celery into them.
- Eat at a table with no distractions, ask them to help set the table so they know that food is coming, make rituals around food.
- Ask your child to help with the shopping - ask them to get six apples or a packet of tomatoes. Get a vegetable box with random fruit and vegetables making it a surprise each week to see what is in the box. Take them to farmer’s markets, get them interested in food.
- Get the children to help with menu planning and cooking.
- Incorporate vegetables into pasta sauces and soups and liquidise.
- Add vegetables into baking, beetroot and courgette work well in cakes.
- Don’t put pressure on them; try to make mealtimes relaxed.
- However be firm, have a one try rule and keep trying, it takes quite a few times until a child starts to like a food.
- Some things they are just not going to like ever! Don’t pick food out or avoid making it though, put healthy food on the plate that they will like and the stuff they won’t or new foods to try as well.
- Don’t lose heart, it takes time and they may not ever like everything but you may be able to introduce more foods into their diet.
- A nutritional therapist will be able to help with a child and teenagers' fussy eating habits and offer parents the much-needed support.
- Avoid processed, refined foods.
- Manage blood sugar levels by reducing sugar and increasing protein with each meal.
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