Trying to get toddlers to eat different foods can be taxing, but parents of fussy eaters can breathe a sigh of relief after new research has found children with picky eating habits still grow up to be a healthy height and weight.
Researchers at the University of Bristol looked at the height, weight and body composition of children aged between 7 and 17, comparing those who were picky eaters at the age of three and those who were not.
Overall they found picky eaters grew normally, and over two thirds of them had not been underweight at any point.
Dr Caroline Taylor and Dr Pauline Emmet compared the 300 children who were labelled as picky eaters as toddlers with 900 children in the same study who were not fussy with food.
The researchers also used the ‘Children of the 90s’ study to try and determine what is behind children’s fussiness around food, from being picky about what they eat to simply refusing to try new things, and found that it could be connected to when they are introduced to lumpy foods.
Looking at more than 6,000 questionnaires from the study, the researchers found that parents who introduced lumpy foods to their children’s diets after the age of nine months, and who worried early on about their child’s fussiness, were contributing factors to children becoming picky eaters by the time they were three-years-old.
They also found that 50% of fussy eating toddlers had mothers who were greatly worried about their pickiness at a young age, while only 17% of toddlers with mothers who were relaxed about their eating turned out to be fussy.
One method that was shown to protect against picky eating was parents eating the same meal together with their children.
Dr Taylor said the findings should be reassuring for parents that “the fussy toddler they may be faced with today can grow up with a good healthy weight and height, although a few may have periods of skinniness”.
“Increased worry around feeding can contribute towards young children being pickier about the foods they will accept,” she added.
Dr Taylor said that advice and support for families should include encouraging the introduction of lumpy foods by nine months, offering new foods regularly but without pressure. And eating with their children as much as possible.
Feeding and nutrition are the most frequently reported concerns of parents with young children, Julie Lanigan, chair of the British Dietetic Association’s Paediatric group said.
“These latest studies from Bristol should reassure parents that even though their child may seem picky they are still taking in enough energy to support healthy growth,” Ms Lanigan said.
“Picky eating is not a new phenomenon and is common in infants and toddlers, so parents should not blame themselves. What we do know now is that lessening parental worry is important to make feeding more enjoyable and less stressful.”