If you’ve got a fussy eater on your hands, get ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Experts reckon they’ve found the solution to tempting children into trying more foods – and it sounds pretty simple.
According to new research from Aston and Loughborough Universities, parents should introduce the ‘three Rs’ to meal times – repetition, role modelling and rewards.
Repeatedly exposing a child to a particular food, eating it first to demonstrate how delicious it is and praising a child for giving it a go will help change a child’s attitude to food in a positive way, the researchers found. They revealed that introducing the ‘three Rs’ helped the 115 children who took part in the research eat more types of foods – including those that they didn’t previously like.
They were put into four separate groups and given the same vegetable to taste at home for 14 days. Each group was exposed to a different combination of the ‘three Rs’ and the amount of vegetables each child was measured.
The researchers revealed that the group of children introduced to all three Rs and those exposed to rewards and repeated exposure showed a huge increased in the amount of veggies they would eat.
Children exposed to the 'three R's ate an average of 4g of the vegetable, compared to 0.6g before the research began.
A recent BBC survey found that half of UK children aged between seven and 12 don't eat fruit or vegetables every day. Yet, worringly, almost a quarter of children surveyed admitted they ate sweets or chocolates on a daily basis.
“Not eating enough fruits and vegetables is one of the main risk factors for global mortality,” says Dr Claire Farrow, of the Aston Research Centre for Child Health. “Eating more fruits and vegetables could prevent numerous cancers, stroke, diabetes and obesity. Children in the UK, however, do not eat enough of them - with only about 20 per cent of them achieving the recommended five-a-day.”
Dr Farrow explains that it can be very challenging for families to encourage their children to eat a healthy, balanced diet – and it’s not unusual if your little one tends to be a little fussy.
“Children naturally go through stages during their toddler years when they are often fussy and will refuse new foods, particularly vegetables,” she explains. “This is a normal developmental stage for children, but it can often lead to a restricted diet as children become fussier and fussier about what they will not eat. Families need evidence-based scientific advice about what they can do to help encourage children to taste, and eventually like, new or disliked fruits and vegetables.”
Do you have any tips for getting a fussy eater to eat up? Let us know in the comments.