PARENTS

Why Should We Tolerate Fussy Eaters?

08/05/2012 10:03 | Updated 22 May 2015
Fussy eater child refusing foodRex Features

My son recently had a friend round for tea. Keen to check for any allergies, before the play date I asked the boy's mother if there was anything he couldn't eat.

"Well," she said apologetically, "I'm afraid he only really eats toast."

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What? Nothing else? Really? No child only eats toast unless toast is the only thing he's ever given.

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And any child who comes to my house will be presented with a balanced meal just like my own three kids. If he doesn't want it, then he's going to go hungry. When supper time came I served up fish pie which my children ate with gusto. Our guest pouted and played with his fork, telling me he didn't eat "this sort of food".

"Oh well," I said brightly, "that's all there is, I'm afraid." He eyed the pudding enviously but knew without my telling him there would be none for him.

I can't abide fussy eaters and I have little tolerance for parents who indulge their children's faddish behaviour. No child will allow themselves to go hungry for long, so if you keep presenting them with the dish, then eventually they're going to have to eat it.

If instead of that 'disgusting' shepherd's pie you offer up fish fingers, or a cheese sandwich, or yoghurt, then of course they're going to take the lighter option.

My friend Claire has fussy eaters, aged four and two. When she brings them for tea they mess about with their food, pushing perfectly cooked vegetables about the plate until they're cold and unappetising. Eventually, once mine have had seconds and are eating their pudding, Claire will give up and ask if her two can "just have a bit of bread." I despair of her tactics.

If my kids don't eat their supper, then they go hungry, and they know it. In my five years of parenting three kids I've sent a child to bed without food on a handful of occasions and they certainly haven't starved. They know the rules and they're shocked when a friend misbehaves at the table.

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For my part, how could I give pudding to a guest who turned their nose up at the main course? It would undermine everything I teach my own children.

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Tasha has two daughters and regularly entertains her children's friends for tea. "If a parent tells me of something they really won't eat, I won't serve it," she says, "and if I know they're very fussy, I'll try to make sure there's one thing on the plate I know they like. Other than that I just tell them our only rule is to try everything on the plate and be polite if you don't like it. Quite often they'll end up eating loads of something they thought they didn't like."

Journalist Katie has two children and her now teenage daughter was an extremely fussy eater. "I once told a mum taking her home to give her Weetabix, knowing it was pretty much the only thing I could guarantee her eating. But Ellie wouldn't touch it – apparently she did the milk wrong."

So how does a child become so fussy about food? Isn't it something you just nip in the bud as soon as it starts? Mum-of-one Amy tells me her daughter has been faddy about food since she was first weaned.

"Looking back I can see where we went wrong. Ella turned her nose up at certain foods, so I never gave them to her again. I was so adamant about getting her to eat something – and so determined to have her sleeping well at night – that if she didn't eat her dinner I'd take it away and offer something else instead."

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Now three years old, the list of foods Ella won't touch is far longer than the list of those she will.

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"She's now started eating jacket potatoes," Amy says, "which is fantastic. But she'll only have them with cheese, never tuna or beans."

So does Ella go to play dates armed with this list of 'acceptable foods', I wonder? "She hasn't gone anywhere for tea on her own yet," Amy says, "but when she does I'll just suggest they give her a jacket potato. It's too much stress trying to get her to eat anything else. She'll always manage a yoghurt or something afterwards, so at least I know she's eaten something."

Well, if Ella comes to tea at our house she might get a jacket potato, but she'll get it with vegetables and perhaps some chicken. And if she won't eat it – that's tough.

What do you think? Is our writer too harsh or right not to pander to picky eaters?

Do children grow out of food faddiness?

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