It’s really hard having a child who picks at their food and will only eat certain things and news stories like the one today where a fussy eater lost their eye sight due to lack of nutrients will only fuel your worry and concern.
Over the years I’ve worked with many fussy little eaters and below I give you my experience and lessons in the hope that it gives you some tools to work with.
One of the first tasks I always ask of my clients is to complete a food diary for their child. This request must be so disheartening to do but it is vital for me to see exactly what nutrition is present in the diet. Often it’s not as bad as you may think!
The most common foods I see on the food diaries are:
- • Dry cereal – usually something loaded with sugar
• Crackers – usually the least nutritious types such as cream crackers
• Chocolate – it seems fussy eaters can eat their weight in chocolate
• Custard – I can’t stand custard but this is a popular choice amongst the fussy ones
• Sausages or Fish fingers – usually a particular type and often the poorer quality brands
• Bananas – at last something actually natural
• Ella’s Kitchen Pouches – but only the one flavour, usually the sweetest one
• Cheese – the more processed the better
• Yoghurt – lots of it and the sweeter the better
• Chips – frozen, oven ready ones not Mum’s homemade ones
• Pizza – but only cheese and tomato sauce on base, nothing else
You get the picture, it’s a very beige looking meal plan.
The problem here is that most fussy eating has progressed from the usual picky stage (around 18 months old) and for whatever reason it had spiralled out of control to the point of very little variation in the diet. If your child is around 18 months old you may find this article helpful! Click HERE.
This is where nutrition starts to play its role and you end up in a chicken and egg situation.
Constipation starts to become an issue due to the lack of fibre in the diet but constipation also effects appetite. If you can’t get stuff out you won’t want to put stuff in!
Sleep disturbances become a factor due to the imbalance of foods causing blood sugar issues. The trouble is, sleep disturbances, affect choice of food. The more tired you are the more you will crave carbs and sugar – the beige stuff!
Recurrent illness such as colds start to factor due to the lack of immune supporting nutrients. Being ill reduces your appetite and so you end up going around in circles.
And so it goes on…………..the chicken and the egg, day in and day out!
Having analysed a vast number of fussy eater’s food diaries over the years I have concluded the following with regards nutrition:
1. There is not always a reduction in calories, in fact most are meeting their calorific requirements by having a preference for high calorie foods, namely sugar and carbs.
2. There is a lower intake of fruit and vegetables. This results in a lack of broad spectrum vitamins and minerals, anti-oxidants and fibre. All of these are vital for the immune system.
3. There is a lower intake of wholegrain and fibre. This results in a lack of B-vitamins and magnesium. These nutrients are important to the nervous system.
4. Lower intake of meat and fish. This results in a lack of protein, iron, zinc and essential fats. These nutrients are key for the immune system, brain function, growth and development.
5. Diets are high in sugar and salt. This results in far too many problems to list here!
Having low levels of these nutrients is obviously not good. Poor nutrition will play a big part in behaviour and attention span as well as sleep quality, immunity, bowel function and growth.
Nutrients affecting appetite
There are two nutrients that are particularly relevant to helping a fussy eater. Please do not get over excited, this is NOT a magic wand. However, it can help to get things moving in the right direction and is usually the next step after looking at the psychological aspects and the child’s eating environment.
Zinc deficiency affects the appetite. I can usually tell if a child is low in zinc by just looking at them! They are often pale, have dark circles under their eye, are small for their age and look poorly. Zinc is vital for growth and the immune system.
Zinc is found in meat, fish, seafood, flaxseed, pumpkin seeds, spinach and cashew nuts.
It is possible to supplement with zinc but having too much is as bad as not having enough so getting help with this is advisable. [see below]
Finding ways to include foods high in zinc can help. I find that using ground seeds and nuts in baked foods can be a good way to increase levels.
Iron is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies found in young children. Low iron levels also affect appetite. Symptoms of iron deficiency in children can include tiredness, breathlessness, poor appetite, repeated infections, unexplained stomach pains and behavioural problems.
Iron is found in meat, seafood, dark leafy greens, dried apricots, black strap molasses, beans and peas. The biggest issue with iron is that it can be easily blocked by other foods and in drinks such as tea and cannot be properly absorbed without the presence of vitamin C (usually deficient in a fussy eater). Calcium also blocks iron absorption as you will see above many fussy eaters drink a lot of milk and eat a lot of yoghurt, custard & cheese!
Iron deficiency can be tested for by speaking to your GP.
I often find that using dried apricots blitzed in a flapjack type recipe with some black strap molasses really helps to improve a fussy eaters iron status.
For those children who avoid all meat and high protein foods it could be that they do not have sufficient stomach acid. Young children can associate the uncomfortable feeling of indigestion with high protein foods. There has been a huge increase in the use of drugs that lower stomach acid i.e. ranitidine and gaviscon. Whenever I see a fussy eater I always take a full history starting right from birth. If reflux was a factor before and during weaning, then I have to consider that the stomach acid may be too low. An early symptom for this may be unexplained stomach pains.
Your child’s craving or food preference can tell you a lot!
The body is very clever and it will often try to seek out and balance any nutrients deficiencies. Looking at the types of food your child prefers can give you a good indication.
Those who eat a lot of cheese & crisps could actually be low in essential fats.
The chocolate cravers are often low in magnesium.
Eating dirt can be sign of low iron.
What Can you Do?
Anyone with a fussy eater will know that nutrition is important and yet they are trapped by a child who completely refuses anything remotely healthy. I do not know a single parent who isn’t concerned about their child’s diet, especially since you are bombarded by the importance of it on an almost daily basis.
The biggest emotion I see in parents is complete failure.
It is not easy dealing with a fussy eater on an emotional or nutrition level.
It takes so much patience and persistence to tackle the initial emotional and psychological issue before moving on to look at specific nutrients and ways to improve the diet. It can be done though with some guidance from specialists like myself and Jo. Lucky for you we can see the wood for the trees. We have an amazing programme that we believe can really solve the problem of fussy eating. Click HERE for more info.
In the meantime do these things:
- Stop stressing, being stressed is not going to help you or your child. First take away any of the emotion you feel towards your child’s food choices.
- Take baby steps, write a food diary and see if your child is getting food from all the food groups i.e. protein, carbs, fats.
- Once you’ve done the food diary look at small changes you can make e.g. a different cracker, a similar but different food.
- Check your child’s nutrient levels. A really simple test that can tell you if your child is deficient in any vital nutrients. For more info click HERE.
- Use a good quality, broad spectrum multi vitamin and mineral plus an omega 3.
- Get help! There is help available, you are not alone and it is possible to change your current situation. Look HERE to find out how I can immediately help you.
Let me know if this article has helped you or what your struggles are at the moment with your fussy little eater.