Some Mealtime Strategies Make Fussy Kids Fussier

Fussy Kids
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According to new research, mealtime strategies adopted by parents of fussy eaters may unwittingly make their children even fussier eaters, interfering with their capacity to regulate their own hunger and create healthy eating habits. The findings were reported in the journal Appetite.

The Deakin University Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition IPAN research team discovered that parents with very fussy children frequently used pressure and persuasion to encourage their children to eat, and these strategies have been shown to be the least effective in developing healthy eating habits and behaviors.

Dr. Alissa Burnett, the study’s lead author, stated that parents with less fussy children were more likely to foster healthier mealtime strategies by involving their children in meal preparation rather than forcing them to eat.

“The findings tell us that we need to be doing more to help parents of fussy eaters because the strategies they are instinctively using, while well intentioned, are not helping their children develop lifelong healthy eating behaviors,” Dr. Burnett said.

“It can be very frustrating when children refuse to eat or refuse to eat certain foods and we start to worry the child will be hungry or is not getting adequate nutrition, so providing well-targeted advice is important.”

The qualitative comparison of mothers’ feeding practices included a survey of almost 1,500 mothers with children aged 2 to 5, and child fussiness levels were assessed using the Children’s Eating Behavior Questionnaire. The moms were also asked an open-ended question, “What are your strategies for dealing with a fussy or refusing to eat child?”

According to Dr. Burnett, the responses indicated mealtime strategies that may unintentionally support fussiness, promote poor appetite self-regulation, or poor food intake, such as:

  • I tell them they only need to take five mouthfuls of their food.
  • That is what I tell them is for supper; if they don’t eat it, they will go to bed hungry.
  • I tell him that if he eats his supper, he can have dessert or do something he enjoys.

Parents with less fussy children tended to involve their children in meal preparation, allow their children to decide when they were satisfied, and serve some dishes repeatedly to encourage their children to try foods they believed they wouldn’t enjoy. These parents’ responses included the following:

  • I include him with the grocery shopping and meal preparation.
  • If she doesn’t want to eat, I don’t make her. I let her determine how much and how frequently she wanted to eat.
  • I always include some options that I know they will enjoy, as well as some other items that I want to introduce them to.

According to Dr. Burnett, parents of fussy children are more prone to deconstruct meals, presenting pasta and sauce separately, or hide vegetables in meals in order to convince their children to consume more healthful foods.

“Presenting foods in unusual forms or hiding certain ingredients, such as vegetables, might improve dietary intake in the short-term but doesn’t teach children to accept a variety of foods in the longer term,” Dr. Burnett said.

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