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26th Apr 2024

Research finds link between modern parenting methods and fussy eating

Sophie Collins

Fussy eaters

In a world where fussy eating among children is on the rise, a crucial connection to contemporary parenting methods is being highlighted. 

New research, from a study conducted at the University of Michigan, sheds light on the alarming trend with six in ten parents in the US admitting to preparing separate meals for their fussy eaters.

The results of the research signify a significant departure from traditional parenting norms.

The study, which surveyed over 1,000 parents of children aged three to ten, exposes a shift in parental attitudes towards mealtime behaviours. 

Only one in eight parents still insist on the “clean plate” rule, while less than one in three withhold dessert as a means of incentivising meal completion.

Dieticians remain divided on the optimal strategy for managing fussy eaters. Some advocate for offering children a variety of choices, while others emphasise the importance of enforcing that whatever is served must be eaten. 

Lucy Upton, a UK-based pediatric dietitian and nutritionist, suggests a novel approach: allowing children to consume dinner foods during breakfast and vice versa, if that’s what they ask for.

“When I was small, I ate all the stuff that my parents would slap on the plate.”

Ciara Kelly, speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, draws from personal experience as both a parent and a GP to underscore the challenges of fostering healthy eating habits. 

She spoke about a time when children readily consumed whatever was placed before them, contrasting with today’s landscape of picky eaters.

“When I was small, I ate all the stuff that my parents would slap on the plate.

“The stews, the cabbage, you know, every type of pie and really, I baulked at tripe and that was about it – but literally everything else we just ate; there was no alternative.

“So part of me thinks offering your children more and more choice will result in your children becoming more and more fussy – but that’s not much help for the parents that are struggling with this.”

Acknowledging the complexity of the issue, Kelly then said that food has become a contentious battleground for many households, with no straightforward solutions in sight. 

She suggests that giving children excessive choices when it comes to their food choices can encourage fussiness, but she also acknowledges the struggles faced by parents who are grappling with this issue.

The US study advocates for a balanced approach, urging parents to offer a variety of nutritious foods while gently encouraging their children to explore new flavours. 

It also emphasises the influential role parents play in shaping their children’s eating habits, emphasising the importance of modeling healthy behaviours.

Fellow presenter Shane Coleman echoed Kelly’s sentiments, and warned against simplistic solutions, advocating for a nuanced understanding of children’s food preferences. 

He emphasised the need to heed expert advice and reject the notion of force-feeding, which can lead to more significant issues down the line.

Coleman also dismissed comparisons with previous generations, and said we need to be aware of the seismic shifts in parenting practices that have occurred in recent years. 

The landscape of child-rearing has evolved, which means there naturally has to be a reevaluation of traditional approaches to feeding and nutrition.

The rise in fussy eating among children is intertwined with modern parenting practices and dietary behaviours. 

While there are no easy answers, a balanced approach is recommended, and parents who are struggling with it are encouraged to get expert guidance to find a suitable solution.

You can find more information here.