Food Refusal: Common Causes
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Common Causes of Food Refusal
The fussy eating and food refusal phase is, hands down, one of the most frustrating things a parent can go through. The stress of not knowing if your child is receiving enough nutrients can be hard enough, but the battle at every single mealtime, and soul destroying waste of food and time, can really tip you over the edge.
Children need to consume the right amounts and kinds of nutrients in order to:
- Grow well
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Prevent tooth decay
- Develop a strong immune system
- Avoid some developmental and behavior problems
Firstly, try and figure out what caused the fussy eating problem in the first place, and then you will be in a better position to resolve it. You may even find a cheeky older sibling has been telling a few nasty tales about broccoli.
Common causes for food refusal
- Often the transition from milk to solids takes some trial and error and babies are drinking too much milk (or juice), and aren’t hungry enough to eat. This food refusal can cause parents to worry and get upset before every mealtime, which can translate some anxiety to the child.
- Unscheduled snacking is a major cause of fussy eating at mealtimes. The trick is to keep snacks as a scheduled part of the day, and to offer the right foods.
- Children need to learn how to eat, so sometimes the culprit is being fed pureed food for too long. Babies get used to the smooth texture, and refuse all lumps and bumps. Children with poor oral motor skills begin to refuse foods as they physically aren’t able to chew them.
- Similarly, children may be fed blander food from a jar and are then transitioned to stronger family foods that they aren’t used to.
- Teething is a really common time for children to go off their food. The key is to identify that they are in fact teething, and change the texture and temperature of their food, rather than offering more tempting foods, which can create bad habits.
- Often we are told to praise, praise, praise our kids for eating their dinner. Funnily enough, this can cause the assumption that eating dinner is not expected, so once babies get to around 12 months of age, they will start to test the boundaries. Of course, be positive and encouraging, but there’s no need to go over the top.
- Once children are old enough to know something sweet, or a dessert, is coming, they will save themselves for this meal and may refuse the non-sweet foods. It’s best to keep desserts for special occasions.
- All children will go through phases of refusing food, usually through a period of mental or physical growth or life change. Sudden food refusal or playing up at the table can cause parents to ply foods with ‘extras’, such as tomato sauce, in order to get them to eat. Before you know it, sauce will be part of every meal.
- Children are not offered a new food a sufficient number of times to allow acceptance of the food. A child may need to be offered a food up to 20 different times before they become familiar with it and accept it.
- Poor posture and low muscle tone can make children uncomfortable in their high chair or at the table. Choosing a suitable high chair or seating position with appropriate support and a food rest for your child will help to maximize their comfort, and accommodate eating.
- Physical complaints, including gastro-oesophageal reflux, constipation, breathing problems and general colds and flu, can impact appetite and taste and result in food aversions, especially if a child experiences pain when they eat. It is important to seek medical advice, provide appropriate foods and alter portion sizes if necessary, returning to their usual healthy eating pattern once they are well.
- Children love being imitated by an adult – it’s the most powerful reinforcer. If parents refuse foods their children are expected to eat it easily encourages picky eating.
- Nutritional deficiencies can impact on a child’s interest in food. For example, a child with iron deficiency will often experience low energy levels impacting on their appetite and ability to learn, including learning how to eat.
There are some foods that kids just love to avoid. Sometimes they genuinely just don’t like them, and that’s okay because we all have different tastes. But, when food refusal starts happening to whole food groups, or colours, or textures, it can become a problem.
If you suspect your child has a medical concern that is affecting their appetite or causing food refusal we recommend you consult your medical practitioner for assessment, and referral to an appropriate health care provider eg dietitian, speech pathologist, occupational therapist or physiotherapist.
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