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How to make your child less picky at mealtimes

Fussy eating youngsters could be encouraged to be less fastidious by sharing mealtimes with their parents, a new study has revealed.

Children who are choosy over what they eat should also eat their breakfast, lunch and dinner without toys or television distracting them, and they should be given some level of choice over what they eat as well as how much.

The recommendations come from a paper published by academics from Loughborough University, the University of Bedfordshire, Aston University, and the University of Warwick.

The aim of the study was to explore how the structure of mealtimes within a family setting is related to a child’s fussy or picky eating behaviour.

Seventy-five mothers of children aged between two and four years were observed during a typical mealtime at home and the youngsters’ behaviours with regard to food refusal, difficulty to feed, eating speed, and positive and negative vocalisations were rated.

The researchers found that children who ate with their mother and who were given the same meal as their mother refused fewer foods and were easier to feed compared with children who ate alone.

During mealtimes with no distractors, such as television, magazines or toys – or where children were allowed some input into food choice and portioning – youngsters were also seen to be less picky.

Loughborough’s Dr Emma Haycraft, Senior Lecturer in Psychology from the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, said: “Eating meals with your child is a really good way to help reduce fussy eating.

“Children love to copy other people so seeing others eating often results in the child eating too.”

Allowing the children a small amount of choice when it came to food helped them to be less fussy, Dr Haycraft said.

And previous research shows that over time young children tend to eat a variety of food and get a nutritionally adequate diet.

She added that given that fussy eating habits established in early childhood can persist into adulthood, there is a need for a thorough understanding of the early risk factors for fussy eating and ways to modify them.

“It’s really common for young children to be fussy about certain foods but it’s usually just a short phase,” said Dr Haycraft.

“Allowing children to have some input into food decisions, such as whether they’d prefer carrots or cabbage with their meal, and allowing them to self-serve are habits that can be started early in childhood, and can help children to establish healthy eating habits that stay with them for life.”

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