My Child won't eat
Feeding problems are remarkably common among young children. It has been estimated that between 12 and 34% of toddlers and pre-school children are 'difficult eaters'. This so-called fussy eating can be extremely distressing to parents. It is commonly used by a child to attract attention, which is often then reinforced by the parent's anxiety. However, if one of your family is a fussy eater, please do not despair, there are solutions both in terms of prevention as well as cure. Here are some helpful hints:
Avoid the trap of repetitive feeding
Count how many meals you regularly prepare for your child/children and you may be surprised how few it is. Limiting your children's diet will limit their nutrient intake and can encourage food intolerance. The most common menu pattern for young children is: cereal and toast for breakfast, pasta for lunch and a sandwich for tea. Wheat, wheat and more wheat! Not only is wheat one of the most common food allergens in children, but it also contains phytate, which binds with important minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc and prevents absorption of these minerals. Keep wheat foods down to once a day, and if your child loves pasta, as most children do, introduce other forms of it as well. You can now buy corn pasta, rice pasta, barley pasta and buckwheat pasta, all in a variety of shapes and colours.
Avoid the junk food syndrome
Ready-prepared foods are quick and easy, but they are also usually heavily laden with salt, sugar, and flavour enhancers. Cooking for the family does not need to take an enormous amount of time, but it does require mental preparation. Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each week working out the family's meals. After all, baking a cod fillet takes just as little time as cooking a few fish fingers and is an infinitely better choice.
Avoid the constant snacker
This is often the start of the slippery slope of food faddism. Children grow very fast and require small meals and a couple of snacks a day. However, if your child is starting to refuse meals but still snacking, then the alarm bells should start ringing. Snacks should be fruit-based: an apple or a fruit bar, a sugar free muffin of a slice of banana bread. Snacks should not be crisps, chocolate, lollipops, cakes and biscuits. No child will sit down and eat a lovingly prepared, healthy meal while regularly consuming these snacks, which are high in sugar, salt and fat.
Lead by example
Children who are picky eaters very often have parents that are picky too! Do you eat vegetables? Are you permanently on a diet? Do you eat on the run? Your children will do what you do and not what you say. Meals are social occasions, so try and sit, eat and talk to your children whenever possible. Eating the same food is equally important. Younger children will always prefer what is on your plate rather than theirs if it is different!
If a meal is refused, try not to get angry (often I find the best tactic is to ignore it). Do not offer any snacks until the next meal and you should find that, after a couple of missed meals, you would have a hungry child on your hands. In the words of Dr Christopher Green, 'No child has ever starved to death through stubbornness.' However, poor appetite can be a symptom of a mineral deficiency. If your child has had erratic eating habits for a while it would be sensible to supplement her diet with a multivitamin and mineral and test for any mineral deficiencies.