Relax: your fussy eaters will be just fine

Relax: your fussy eaters will be fine
Relax: your fussy eaters will be fine Photo: Shutterstock

If your little one currently turns their nose up at anything but chicken nuggets and plain rice, then take heart: a new study found that your fussy eaters will likely be just fine when it comes to their weight and height.

"Early choosiness is a normal part of growing up and parents can relax in the knowledge that this phase shouldn't limit their children's growth," says lead researcher Dr Carolyn Taylor of the findings.

As part of the research, published in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Dr Taylor and her team used data from the Children of the 90s longitudinal study to examine the height, weight and body composition of nearly 300 children identified as picky eaters when they were three years old. While the researchers found differences in growth and body composition of kids identified as being "very picky" eaters at age three, compared to those who weren't, the mean heights, weights and BMIs were all above the 50th centiles of growth reference charts.

In other words, they weren't harmed by their less-than-adventurous diets.

The researchers did note, however, that some of the children in the group of picky children (almost one-fifth), were underweight at three or more time-points between seven and 17 years of age, compared with less than one-tenth of not picky children.

"Parents should be reassured by our research 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," said Dr Taylor. In fact, worrying about a child's fussiness may do more harm than good. "Increased worry around feeding can contribute towards young children being pickier about the foods they will accept," she added.

More specifically, 50 per cent of three-year-olds with mothers who were greatly worried about their child's fussy eating at 15 months were very picky eaters, compared with only 17 per cent if the mothers were more relaxed earlier on.

That was one of the key findings from the researchers' second study, published in the journal Appetitewhich focused on early life factors associated with picky eating. As well as a mum being concerned about their child's diet in their second year, late introduction of lumpy foods (after 9 months) was linked to having a picky eater, as well as a child being fed ready-prepared main meals, especially baby foods, at 15 months of age.

But it's not all bad news. Giving kids fresh fruit and mums eating the same meal as their child, had the opposite effect.

Based on the findings from the two studies, the authors advise families to try the following with their little ones: 

  • Encourage the introduction of lumpy foods to infants at 6 months and not later than 9 months of age.
  • Offer new foods regularly but without pressure
  • Eat with your children as much as possible. 
  • Avoid feeding ready-prepared baby foods.