We understand that your child's health is of utmost importance to you, and that includes their eating habits. Children can occasionally be selective about what they eat and it is important to be mindful this does not develop into an unhealthy relationship with food.
Below we will discuss spotting the signs of unhealthy eating habits in your child and ways you can help them to develop a healthy relationship with food.
Understanding Eating Difficulties: Spotting the signs
Eating difficulties aren't just about being ‘picky’ with meals. Below are more signs to look for that may indicate that eating has become a real struggle for your child:
➢ If your child sticks to only a few types of food and refuses to try new ones.
➢ If your child seems scared or worried about eating certain foods, e.g. your child may feel afraid certain foods will make them ill or cause them to lose/gain weight.
➢ Some children can’t tolerate certain textures or tastes of food, and this may limit their ability to eat a varied diet.
➢ If your child is losing weight or their growth is not as expected.
➢ Complaining about stomachaches or feeling sick after eating can indicate they may struggle with eating difficulties.
Helping your child develop a healthy relationship with food
If you have noticed some of the signs mentioned, it is important to act and not avoid or ignore the above symptoms. It can be difficult to know what to do.
Below are a few strategies to encourage your child to have a healthier relationship with food.
What to Do
➢ Make meals fun: Keep mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable and focus on spending quality time together rather than just eating.
➢ Try different foods: try new foods with your child on a regular basis. This might be cooking a different vegetable alongside food that your child likes and is familiar with.
➢ Model a healthy relationship with food: Children learn from watching you, so if you eat a variety of foods, they can be more willing to try new things.
➢ Listen to hunger: Teach your child to know when they're hungry or full and as a result encourage intuitive eating.
➢ Cook together: Cooking can be a fun activity. Let them help in the kitchen, and children can often get curious about trying what they've made.
What Not to Do
➢ Don't force them: Try to encourage and try meals alongside your child rather than entering a battle over the dinner table.
➢ Eat without reward or penalty: Using treats or restricting food can encourage an unhealthy relationship with food as children link their behaviours with what they are ‘allowed’ to eat. Instead, educating children around enjoying food in moderation and integrating all foods into a balanced diet can be helpful to see food as fuel, rather than linked to mood.
➢ Less ‘food talk’: Talking about food excessively has the potential to trigger anxiety in children. Be conscious of how much focus there is on food and mindful if discussions start to revolve around food.
When, where, and how to access more support
The below points are helpful to consider if you feel you require more support for your child
➢ If you are concerned you should start by talking to your child’s GP who can complete a full medical assessment and offer their professional advice and guidance.
➢ If your child is struggling with eating different types of food, it may be helpful to look for a dietician to support them.
➢ If your child is displaying anxiety about food, it may be useful to look at a course of therapy sessions to help them manage this.
➢ Talking to other parents who've had similar experiences can often give you ideas and provide comfort and support.
If you're concerned about your child's eating habits, look out for potential causes of concern including limiting meal options, food phobias, or physical health concerns.
It is important to make meals enjoyable and interesting rather than pushing your child to eat or using food as a reward. If your child has food anxiety, get expert guidance from their GP or a dietician and consider seeing a therapist.
Remember that you are not alone with your concerns and speaking out to both professionals and to other parents can be really effective in supporting both you and your child.