Why is my child a fussy eater? 7 reasons your child may be a food refuser

Anna, our registered Nutritional Therapist, looks at some reasons for fussy eating in children. Anna works with children and women in Bristol or via Skype.

There may be aspects of your child’s diet which can influence their attitude to food, or there might be things to consider about your expectations and attitudes. Here are some potential reasons for you to consider why they may be a fussy eater. If you’d like a 1:1 consultation for your diet or for your child please let us know and set up a free 15 minute appointment

  1. Nutrient deficiency – zinc

When our bodies are low in zinc, it affects the appetite and taste buds. Imagine if food tastes very bland to a child a meal time isn’t very appealing. Your child may have lost their appetite if they aren’t getting enough zinc in the diet.

How you can help:

Including zinc rich foods in the diet can help to address this, or if very low taking a supplement may help. (Do not take zinc for long periods of time as it can interfere with other minerals). Zinc rich foods are in seafood, red meat, green leafy veg, mushrooms, nuts, seeds, brown rice, lentils, pulses, wholegrains, eggs).

  1. Nutrient deficiency – iron

A lack of iron in the diet can lead to fatigue and low appetite. It can also lead to feelings of nausea which could put your child off their food.

How you can help:

Iron can be found in red meat, fish, green leafy vegetables, egg yolk, pulses (e.g. lentils, chickpeas, beans), wholemeal bread, sweet potato and dried fruits. If your child doesn’t eat any of these foods consider a supplement

  1. Unbalanced gut microflora – gut disbiosis

We need the bugs in our gut to help us digest food, so if the balance gets upset you may find that bowel function is altered or appetite changes. Taking antibiotics can wipe out large numbers of good bacteria, so can times of stress for your child (e.g. starting a new nursery, change in routine, or starting school) as well as eating a diet high in processed foods.

How you can help:

Consider a probiotic supplement. Food based probiotics are sauerkraut, kefir (fermented milk, or water) but as these are all ‘an acquired taste’ your child with a limited palate may not accept these new foods! Probiotics can be added to cold food or drink and are pretty tasteless.

  1. Food intolerance

If your child refuses to eat certain foods it’s possible their body is telling them it doesn’t feel right when they eat this type of meal.

How you can help:

Complete a diet diary to look at what your child eats over a week, and track any other symptoms they have. Consider seeing a nutritional therapist to review your child’s diet and manage any food sensitives. Do not cut out food groups without considering how to replace the nutrients from other sources.

  1. Constipation

If your child is very full they will not feel like adding to their blocked up intestines. We should all pass a bowel movement at least once a day, ideally 2-3 times. They may need more fibre if they struggle on the toilet regularly. Consider a probiotic as well to correct the balance of bacteria.

How you can help:

Ensure your child is eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. If they won’t eat these think about ways to sneakily increase the fibre (vegetables in cakes, smoothies, soups, hidden veg pasta souce) Look at the ERIC website for more information about constipation.  Consider a probiotic as well to correct the balance of bacteria.

  1. Control

Children need to feel some control over their lives, and this need starts to grow and expand as they do. They need some control over what they wear, their activities and their food. Sometimes our little ones have very limited control over their environment, routine or even play, so the one thing they can do is refuse food to show some control over their own body.

How you can help:

Allow your child some choice within healthy limits. Provide a choice of food at each mealtime, perhaps with one thing you know they like and some other new items. If you can, get them to join in food preparation so they can help choose veg at the supermarket. Depending on their age perhaps they can help you chop soft veg as you cook. Ask them whether they want carrots or broccoli for dinner tonight, would they prefer a banana or orange for pudding?

  1. Wanting to be grown up

Children may want to show how they are separate from you as their care givers as they get older. They may decide they no longer eat meat, or they don’t like a routine family favourite pudding. This is a normal part of growing up to help them separate from you and allows their growing independence.

How you can help:

Try not to take it personally if your child no longer shares the same food attitudes as you, and see this stage as a normal part of their development.

If you’d like a 1:1 consultation for your diet or for your child please let us know and set up a free 15 minute appointment