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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds I’m Karen Campbell. I’m an expert on kids’ nutrition and eating, and I think it’s a really, really important area. One of my clients, Sarah, has rung me this morning to say her little boy Archie is causing her a bit of grief. And it’s a really hard time being a young mum, so I’m going to just pop by and have a chat to her about some of the things she might be able to do to make it a little bit easier with Archie so that he’ll be a great eater for a long time to come. I’m really quite concerned about it. He is well. He’s growing well. But I’m worried he’s not getting enough nutrients from his main meal.

Skip to 0 minutes and 36 seconds And you mentioned on the phone that he’s not eating his main meal. Very rarely will he eat it. I’ll prepare healthy meals for him for his main meal, and he’s just fussing so much. He’s not interested in eating anything. Pushing it away, that sort of thing? Cracking it. Cracking it. I don’t want this meal. How frustrating for you. Very. And I get anxious and worried that he’s not going to get enough food. So then I offer him something I know he will like, like a sweet dessert, or mashed fruit. And what does he do? Which is healthy, but then – oh, custard maybe, or a sweet yoghurt. And loves it. Loves it. Loves it. So he’s a little bit hungry.

Skip to 1 minute and 11 seconds He’s hungry, he wants his food, but he wants the yummy stuff that he loves. And so you’re feeling you need a bit of advice about how to encourage him to eat the meal that you put all that time into making. How do I get him to eat – yeah, I put in a lot of effort. And I actually get a bit – oh, you’re not eating this beautiful food. It’s so nutritious and healthy for him. Just some ideas on how I can get him to eat that food. The first thing is, what he’s doing is really, really normal. OK. I mean, he’s 9-months-old He’s becoming more and more independent as you know.

Skip to 1 minute and 41 seconds As soon as he started to crawl, he moved away from you a bit further. Yes, yes. He’s kind of– Exploring his own world. Becoming his own person. So this is very normal for children. And it’s very normal for children to be a bit manipulative. It doesn’t mean he’s being naughty, it just means he’s using his innate natural desire to get on with things. If he thinks he can get away with something without ever thinking it’s true, he will. So what he’s getting away with at the moment is, by fussing, he’s making you provide something else that he knows he likes better. So he’s learning a bit of a habit here. If I don’t eat that I get that.

Skip to 2 minutes and 16 seconds And sometimes it’s good to think about when you’re a kid and how you feel about things. I’m going to give you a bit of a scenario. When you were little– so if you can remember back to, say, even four or five. If your mum gave you chicken, let’s say, for dinner and you really wanted fish fingers, and you said, mum, I hate chicken. Yuck, I’m not eating this chicken. Go away. Take it away. I don’t don’t want it and your mum said, oh, Sarah, OK. Would you like some fish fingers? You’d say yes, of course. And what would you think? I could have whatever I want, when I want it. Whenever you want it.

Skip to 2 minutes and 45 seconds OK, so there’s a very clear message. So a parent, you feel you’re doing the right and the kind thing. However, there’s ramifications. There’s an outcome from that. So the opposite scenario would be mum gives you chicken and you wouldn’t fish fingers. And you say, yuck, mum, I hate your chicken. I want fish fingers. And she says, Sarah, this is what we’re having for dinner tonight. This is our family meal. And you make a fuss, and you say, I don’t want this, I don’t want this, I don’t want this. And she does nothing at all and continues to eat her dinner. And to your surprise, she actually then removes your plate of dinner when the family has finished eating.

Skip to 3 minutes and 18 seconds Now what would you feel then? Oh, hungry. Annoyed that I didn’t get what I wanted. And disappointed. And you might make a real fuss. And you might try it again, and again, and maybe even again, but eventually what would you do? I’d eat. You’d stop, because you weren’t getting the reward. I would eat what I was offered first time. That’s right. Yeah. OK, I see. So it’s a strategy. And it’s not just around food and eating. It’s around lots of things with kids. If you give in, they’ll take. And they’ll make a fuss when there didn’t need to be a fuss. And fussing around food is a problem, because it makes you stressed and crossed.

Skip to 3 minutes and 51 seconds And it often leads to using food you know they like as rewards, and often the foods actually not all that healthy. You mentioned yoghurts and custards. They’re good foods in and of themselves, but they don’t comprise a whole healthy diet. Yes. Lots of people will use sweet biscuits and cake because they know children will enjoy those. Again, it’s not going to make for a very good long-term diet.

Fussing about food: dealing with food rejection

Children can exert enormous power over parents when they sense the stakes are high. This is, of course, the case when it comes to feeding young infants.

Many parents find the enjoyment and excitement associated with the early days of feeding their baby begins to disappear when their child starts to cry and fuss when being offered food. This shift in interest around food often reflects the baby’s growing independence.

Parents want their baby to eat and enjoy a wide range of foods, many of which they’ve taken a lot of time to prepare. Food made with love, cost and time is meant to be enjoyed, not spat out or cried over!

In this video, Karen discusses these issues with a parent who’s feeling frustrated and disappointed that her previously ‘good eater’ is now not enjoying mealtimes at all—unless, that is, she brings out the sweet custard!

The key messages of this video are:

  • Avoid engaging with your child when they don’t want to eat and, instead, allow them to decide if to eat (at all) and how much they will eat.
  • The more you fuss and try to encourage your child to finish what you’ve offered, the more ammunition they have and, in turn, the more they will fuss. This outcome is stressful and upsetting, and it can be avoided.
  • The importance of not providing ‘back up’ options, which will usually be sweet. Remember that we’re programmed to enjoy sweet tastes and this is partly why babies enjoy breastmilk. However, if you offer sweet alternatives to the main offerings, you’ll soon find this becomes a focus for your baby.

Your task

Watch the video and, in the comments, share your thoughts about why some young children become fussy eaters and how this can be avoided.

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This video is from the free online course:

Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

Deakin University

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