Fussy kids should be allowed to play with their food, say experts

Girl making peanut butter sandwich, licking fingers

It’s a struggle suffered by parents across the globe, but new NHS guidelines suggest that we shouldn’t be so tough on children who display fussy eating habits.

The new advice from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) states that children should be allowed to ‘play with their food’ if it is the only way to get them to eat, and urges parents to make mealtimes more ‘relaxed’. It adds that worried mothers and fathers should not try and ‘coerce’ toddlers into eating, even if there are concerns over weight, and suggests that punishing bad behaviour at the dinner table will only make matters worse.

Instead, keeping meal times consistent and encouraging children to feed themselves (even if it ends up with the kitchen looking a mess) are cited as key elements in promoting a healthy relationship with food. Professor Gillian Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE, said:

“Having a child with faltering growth can be distressing for parents and carers. However, simple things such as encouraging relaxed and enjoyable feeding and mealtimes, eating together as a family or even allowing young children to be ‘messy’ with their food can help encourage them to eat.”

It was also highlighted that drinking too many energy-dense drinks, such as milk, can reduce a child’s appetite for other foods. However, in cases where a child is repeatedly refusing food and losing weight rapidly, GPs are urged to check for signs of coeliac disease and if necessary refer patients to specialists. Speaking to The Telegraph Dr Frankie Phillips, from the British Dietetic Association, said:

“Playing with food, preparing food and letting children get messy are all about creating a positive relationship with food; that is really important. Getting families eating together and making meals an enjoyable time is a good way to encourage healthy attitudes to eating.”

Mum and daughter cooking in kitchen

Dr Phillips added:

“This isn’t only the case when children are underweight, its also true in the case of children with excessive weight gain; a relaxed attitude towards food helps to encourage a healthy approach.”

Adding to this was Professor Mary Fewtrell, nutritional lead at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who told The Telegraph that children who find mealtimes fun at a young age are less likely to be fussy later on.

“For very young children, this can be simple things like allowing them feel the different textures of food – which can get messy!”

If you are concerned about your child’s growth, always seek advice from your GP.

[“source=netdoctor”]