As if feeding your baby wasn’t difficult enough, he has suddenly decided to become a fussy eater. No matter how you try getting the food in his mouth—the airplane method, sneaking it in while he’s not looking, eating it with him—he just won’t get it down because he doesn’t seem to like it. Even as your baby grows into a toddler, fussiness will be extremely frustrating because you’ll worry that he is not getting all the nutrients he needs in the small sample of foods that he actually likes. While fussiness is extremely common in a toddler’s eating habits, there are a few ways you can try to combat it by changing your own habits as the mom. Of course, he might never love those mashed turnips, but at least you can expand his palate slightly.

One important thing you can do to help end your child’s fussiness is to avoid rewarding him with food. Doing so will change his perception of food and make him less likely to eat when he doesn’t want to. Delicious rewards certainly work well for animals, but it is not an acceptable form of learning for a toddler. It might be effective, but studies show that it could lead to later problems with obesity because there will be a complex concept of reward that was developed in the brain. Instead, start rewarding your child with other enjoyable activities that have nothing to do with food, including trips to the park or rounds of computer games. If you have started the habit of rewarding your baby with food, it’s okay to change your methods. The earlier you change how you reward your child, the more easily he or she will catch on.

By rewarding your baby or child with enjoyable food, you are teaching him or her that sweets are special and vegetables are more like punishment. Of course, your toddler is going to like sweets and candy more than he likes the usual dinner platter, but if you avoid using food as a reward, eating the boring foods will be less strenuous. In addition to making your child less fussy about the foods he or she likes, it will also make him or her less likely to become obese when it’s time to start making food choices independently. Food should be more about nutrition and quenching hunger than about reward versus punishment.

Source: T Burrows et al: The Impact of a Child Obesity Treatment Intervention on a Parent Child-Feeding Practices. Pediatric Obesity Volume 5 Issue 1 pp. 43-50 January 2010

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