Time to nip fussy eating in the bud
From conception onwards, most parents fix their sights firmly on setting their children up for a healthy and happy life.
As babies grow into toddlers and then children, decisions about nurturing and development are carefully considered and implemented.
But there is a fine line between good parenting and over-parenting, and experts say a growing number of people are falling into the trap of overindulging their progeny.
Eager to provide their children with nothing but the best, many parents are unwittingly creating spoilt, demanding, attention-seeking adults with little resilience.
Rosemary Stanton, one of Australia’s most applauded nutritionists, says parents who give their children too many food options could be setting their offspring up for some serious and lifelong health problems.
Children who are indulged fussy eaters can easily develop into adults who are prone to fad dieting and other poor eating habits, leading to increased risk of obesity and serious disease.
Dr Stanton said parents needed to start thinking more seriously about helping their children develop healthy eating patterns and it was never too early to start.
Indulging young children with elaborate lunch boxes overflowing with snacks or offering multiple options at meal times to cater for fussy eaters was not conducive to longevity.
Instead, children who eat varied diets and develop a good understanding of the value of fresh, nutrient-dense foods are much more likely to go on to live happy, healthy lives.
Teaching children to appreciate basic foods, especially vegetables, is a vital part of good parenting.
Dr Stanton said children started to develop a sense of taste for food from a young age.
“Babies start to develop their palate virtually from day one, ” she said. “And what they eat is important from the time they are breast or bottle fed.
“The whole idea that we have special foods for children, really is the cause for so many hassles in life and it’s about time that parents started to take this seriously and take a step back and realise that they are setting their kids up for a difficult and potentially dangerous adulthood.”
Dr Stanton said it was vital that children were encouraged to eat a wide and varied diet, rich in fresh vegetables and fruit and often new foods needed to be offered multiple times before a child accepted them.
Too many parents make the mistake of giving up on feeding their children vegetables because the offering is initially refused.
There is good research to show some children rejected foods up to 10 times before finally accepting them.
“The most important message is that parents shouldn’t give up and they shouldn’t change meals or cater specifically for children who appear to be fussy because it takes time, ” Dr Stanton said.
“Some kids will need to taste things 10 times before they accept a new flavour.
“Even if the child won’t eat much for a few days, it is important to persevere, because no child has ever starved to death when there was good, healthy food available.”
It stands to reason that young fussy eaters who are overindulged with special meal options are likely to grow up to crave attention around eating.
Instead of giving children attention when they refuse to eat certain foods it is much better to encourage them to be part of preparing and eating meals in a positive way.
“Involving children from an early age in meal preparation and planning is really important, ” Dr Stanton said.
“Most children will show an interest in helping to prepare meals from the age of about three and, while some parents might think that is a nuisance, it’s actually a really good idea to get them involved and, if you think about it, there’s not too much harm that can be done.
“They can help with things such as stirring, or tossing salads and they can be involved with decisions such as choosing what fruit or vegetable to include in the meal.
“When we do this, we are creating positive messages around healthy eating and we are setting kids up to think positively about food for the rest of their lives.”
It is also a good idea to help children learn to prepare some of their own healthy snacks and even simple meals.
“These days many parents are really busy and there is a lot to juggle, ” she said.
“If a child can come home from school and make themselves a smoothie or some toast with avocado it can not only help to take some of the pressure off the family unit, it can also help children realise that healthy foods are easy to prepare and they can be more satisfying than a muesli bar or a bag of chips.
“Many Australian children get the majority of their energy intake from junk food. That is very worrying and we need to give our children all the tools they need to make better decisions.”
Surprisingly, she said treats such as sweets or cakes should not be banned but rather supplied sparingly, as a weekly treat or at times of celebration.
“Party foods have their place and I don’t believe in banning foods because that just makes them more desirable, ” she said.
“Instead we should teach our children to show restraint and to enjoy things as a treat, because that is when they are most enjoyable, when we only have them occasionally.
“I would never forbid anyone from enjoying the occasional treat. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with a small treat once a week.”
Sitting down at the table to eat at least one meal as a family each day was also important.
“I believe one of the best things about being part of a family is being able to sit at the dinner table together. It is a place where children learn how to share the good things and the not-so-good things. They learn how to discuss issues and how to argue and they develop a lot of vital skills.
“There is good research to show that children who sit at the dinner table at least once a day are less likely to get into problems with things such as smoking, drugs, alcohol and other risky behaviours.”
© The West Australian
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