A breakthrough for fussy eaters
Parents battling their children’s fussy eating have been given fresh hope, thanks to an online resource which promises to relieve the issue.
With around half of toddlers and young children turning their noses up at certain foods – often healthy fruit and vegetables – many families face stressful mealtimes. And parents’ reactions, often using unhealthy foods as a ‘reward’ or limiting access to them, can be counter-productive.
But a new study suggests that the Child Feeding Guide, a free online resource developed by experts at Aston University and Loughborough University, can not only help parents to change their approach to feeding, but may also reduce parental anxiety in just four weeks. More than 80,000 parents have already sought support from the Guide.
In the UK, less than one in five children eats the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables per day. Unhealthy eating habits can persist into later life and are associated with a higher risk of health conditions such as diabetes. From the age of about 18 months, between a third and half of children go through a period known as ‘neophobia’ – a fear of new things – in relation to food. This is thought to be an evolutionary development that stopped children from eating potentially poisonous food.
A Nutrition Bulletin journal study followed up 25 mothers with children aged six months to four years who used the Child Feeding Guide website over four weeks. Significant decreases were seen in parental anxiety and in the use of ‘pressure to eat’. Mothers reported that the guide was credible, supportive and easy to use.
Amanda Alsop, 40, a charity worker from Wolverhampton and mum of two girls aged six and three, says that using the Child Feeding Guide has helped her to identify ‘pitfalls’ in how she addresses her daughters’ fussy eating pattern. ‘My first daughter didn’t like certain textures or things mixed together on the plate. I bought toddler-friendly cookbooks, but a lot of the recipes ended up on the floor! The Child Feeding Guide helped me to stop using food as a reward, bribe, or punishment – instead I used stickers as rewards. It also encouraged me not to have sweet treats in the house that the children could access.’ Both Amanda’s daughters are now willing to try a range of new foods, and she feels much more relaxed about mealtimes.
Dr Emma Haycraft, a Reader in Psychology at Loughborough University, says the Child Feeding Guide is particularly helpful in explaining to parents the reasons behind fussy eating behaviours. ‘Making parents and caregivers aware of why their child might be refusing food or prefer pasta to carrots, and what they can do to help overcome this, is a key part of the Child Feeding Guide which users tell us they really value.’