If your children are picky eaters, bribing or pressuring them will probably backfire.
But there are other steps you can take to help them get over their fussiness, researchers report.
Australian scientists reviewed 80 studies to find out more about fussy eaters.
They found that pressuring a child to eat, offering rewards for eating and stricter parenting methods didn’t help. But a relaxed parenting style, eating together as a family and involving children in preparing food can reduce the odds of fussy eating.
“For parents with a fussy eater, mealtimes can be especially stressful — juggling the family meal and a picky eater is no small feat,” said researcher Laine Chilman, a PhD student at the University of the Sunshine Coast in Australia.
“Some families have kids who turn their noses up at any vegetable. Others are dealing with kids who dislike certain textures or colors of food. Some of these preferences relate to a child’s characteristics or personality, which are difficult to change, if at all. But others are external factors that could help reduce fussy eating in kids,” she said.
“Eating together as a family, with siblings, and having a single meal at a regular time all helped reduce food fussiness. As did getting the fussy child involved in the meal, either by helping to choose the menu or helping to prepare the meal. Yet if fussy eaters were allowed to eat in front of the TV, or if they were rewarded for eating certain foods, these behaviors negatively influenced picky children,” Chilman added.
Researcher Ann Kennedy-Behr, a senior lecturer at the University of South Australia, said stress can contribute to fussy eating.
“When you have a child who is a picky eater, it’s very stressful for a parent or [caregiver] — they’re forever questioning whether their child is getting enough nutrients, enough food, and often enough weight gain,” she said in a University of South Australia news release.
It’s important to understand that being overly anxious or worried can actually contribute to increased picky eating, Kennedy-Behr added.
“Avoiding getting cross and limiting any negativity around mealtime will benefit everyone. Positive parenting, no matter how difficult it can be in certain situations, is the best step forward for fussy eaters,” she said.
The researchers offered these tips to help a fussy eater:
- Set a good example: Eat together as a family.
- Have regular mealtimes. This reduces levels of stress.
- Get kids involved in making meals. Familiarity and a sense of control can help.
- Turn the TV off. Focus on food.
- Keep mealtimes calm and stress-free. It will be a better experience for all.
- Don’t reward, bribe or punish fussy eaters.
The report was published recently in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
For more on picky eaters, visit the University of California, San Francisco.
SOURCE: University of South Australia, news release, Sept. 20, 2021
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