Most parents know the struggle that can come with having picky eaters. You want to ensure your little ones are getting the nutrition they need but when they can be so fussy and stubborn, eventually you hit a point where you’re just happy to get any food into them.
It’s a common struggle and a recent Deakin University study highlighted just much how quickly it can change from a baby who’s getting enough veggies to battling with a fussy eater.
The Deakin University researchers examined dietary data from 467 Australian children, looking at what they ate at ages 9 months, 18 months, 3 and a half years and 5 years.
At 9 months of age, 90% of the tots were eating the recommended amount of fruit and veggies, but by the time they got to 18 months only 5% were eating their recommended daily intake of veggies.
Researchers noted one reason may be because the recommended intake of veggies increases after kids turn one, but they also highlighted that 90% of children in the study were eating too many discretionary foods – that’s foods like soft drink, sweet biscuits, cake and ice cream.
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So how can you make sure children are eating more healthy veggies and leaving less room for discretionary foods? Well here are our favourite tips for getting more veggies into those fussy eaters and setting them up for lifetime of healthy habits:
Start small – just give them a small amount of the new veggie to try and have more on hand ready to top up their plate. A large amount can seem overwhelming and can put off a fussy eater right from the start.
Serve the same food as the family eats – more is caught than taught, so surround your little one with great examples of healthy foods that the rest of the family enjoys.
Give them credit – assume your child will like a new food, rather than being ready for a fight. Kids pick up on our attitudes and if we go in expecting them to not like something, they can play into that belief. If they reject a food after they have tried it, have a healthy alternative you can offer.
Keep offering – studies have shown that the average child will need to be introduced to a new food between 5 to 15 times before they are willing to try it (and adults can be even worse). If at first the food is rejected, don’t give up. Try cooking the veggies a different way to change their texture, like roasting veggies as “chips” or blending and mixing them with a dip your child loves like hummus. Whatever the tack, it is important to regularly include a small amount on their plate until they become familiar with the new food.
Avoid using food as a reward or punishment – the last thing you want to do is associate health foods with punishment and junk food with reward.
Want more information?
Our nutrition fact sheets, created by accredited dietitians, provide the latest nutrition and lifestyle information to help you understand which foods are the best to eat. Click here to see the infant nutrition fact sheet.