While you might be enjoying your toddler’s bubbly personality and adorable behaviour, you may be dreading feeding times as they are bound to end up with fights, with your child refusing to eat your large variety of foods.
With some children this can also trigger undesirable behaviour such as tantrums, screaming and biting.
Your child is not the only one; there are plenty of them and they are called picky eaters.
They are characterised by fussy eating, with most toddlers eating a restricted range of food, which can be unhealthy at times.
According to research, about 50% of parents report their children as being picky eaters.
As a coping strategy, many parents tend to give their children whatever they feel like eating, depriving them of the much-needed nutrition, which sometimes results in these children having poor immune systems.
Sandiso Fokazi, mother of three-year-old Sithembiso, knows this experience all too well. After trying to introduce Sithembiso to different foods, she admits she eventually gave into his demands, and currently his favourite food is Rice Krispies.
“He wants that for breakfast, lunch, and supper. He doesn’t want to eat anything but that,” she says.
While Sithembiso was initially a good eater, Fokazi says, her son’s food preferences became evident after he developed speech.
“After he started talking, he just said no to everything. He lives off Rice Krispies. When he is really hungry he asks for bread, but only white bread with nothing, he refuses to eat brown bread or buttered bread. If we give him anything else, he won’t eat it,” she said.
Like most of the parents who struggle with feeding times, Fokazi says she tends to allow the child to eat whatever he wants to eat to avoid the back and forth and nagging every day.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes I made as a mother is that I’m more accommodating of him... probably more than I should, and I think he knows that and takes advantage."
She adds that with his father, Sithembiso’s eating patterns are different, and he would eat everything in his plate until he finishes every bit even if takes him a while.
As a strategy to get him to eat and not despise certain foods, the family has now decided not to force-feed Sithembiso, but allow him to go hungry until he wants to eat.
“He went to my sister’s house for the holiday, and my sister forced him to eat spinach.
"Now, he hates it even more. He begs me not to cook it or dish out for anyone in the house.
"My biggest fear is that if we force him, he might have a bad relationship with food.”
Gabi Lasker, a registered dietitian based in Sea Point, says dealing with fussy eaters requires patience and consistency.
She explains that some toddlers may end up being fussy because of their first experience with food.
“To be exactly sure if the child doesn’t like the food, parents should try and cook or serve the food differently.
"Some kids don’t like the spices parents use and they end up not wanting the food. For example, if you notice that the child doesn’t like cooked carrot, then try it raw. They might have a different experience with it.”
Lasker says parents must try and avoid negotiating with kids only during meal times; instead they should rather include them in the process of making the food.
Alternatively, she says, parents can give kids options to choose from what they want to eat from the grocery store so they feel included in the decision-making relating to their food options.
Another thing that parents should avoid is rewarding children for eating their food. That can have a negative impact on them when they are older; it can manifest itself as emotional eating.”
Lasker also suggests dishing the food creatively and in small portions for the kids.
"If the child does not finish the food, let them be. At most times they know when they have had enough.”
If the child really refuses to eat most foods, parents should introduce multivitamins to avoid the development of weak immune systems that may lead to children getting sick regularly.
“Parents should also be careful of allowing kids to say no all the time, as this might make it more difficult to introduce new foods in the future.