There are a lot of frustrated mothers pulling their hair out around dinner tables up and down the nation according to a new fussy eating kids survey.
The Anchor CalciYum Food Solutions research says 85 per cent of mums experience "fussy eating" behaviour and for three-quarters of them these daily food battles cause moderate to high levels of anxiety.
The survey polled 1000 mothers with children aged 3 to 11. Anxiety was attributed to a motherly desire to see their children receive sufficient nutrition.
Fiona Boyle, a Tauranga-based dietitian and nutritionist, agreed.
"Overall, it shows there are concerns that they feel their children are not eating a good enough variety of foods," Ms Boyle said.
Fussy eating profiles uncovered by the research included: Children not eating vegetables (58 per cent) and being picky about texture (49 per cent); to those who would only eat certain coloured foods (8 per cent) and some who displayed a strong preference for takeaway food (6 per cent).
Ms Boyle, founder of Food Solutions, said catching the problem early was important.
"Some parents come to me after four or five years and it is much harder to deal with once it's been established for that long," she said.
Children had differing rates of growth and appetite. The amount a child ate would often diminish in line with a growth spurt.
"That's not always expected by the parent, so they get worried," said Ms Boyle.
Strategies for combating fussy eating centred on being in control at meal times.
"If the child doesn't eat the meal offered don't turn around and give them their favourite vegemite sandwich. They will just learn that they can hang out and wait until mum gives in and gives me something else," Ms Boyle said.
"The parent's role is to choose what's on offer and it's up to the child whether they're going to eat it. What you don't want to see is an early establishment of 'Oh well Jimmy won't eat this so I won't bother putting it on his plate'. You have to keep on offering.
"You also shouldn't try to mess around with the food too much. Ideally a child should get used to seeing broccoli as broccoli, and carrots as carrots, rather than them being hidden away. It can be presented and cut up in different ways but I don't think you necessarily need to start playing too many foody games.
The most popular strategies used by mothers in the research, included: hiding/disguising food (used by 57 per cent of mothers); using sauces (51 per cent); promising treats (39 per cent); introducing sticker/reward charts (25 per cent).
Ms Boyle said though creative solutions could be tried, getting back to basics was a better starting point.
"It's going right back to basics: Having a routine with meal times; not letting kids fill up on snacks before meals; watching fluids intake, too much will dull their appetite; making sure they're eating early enough, because many children will have eating problems when they're too tired; volumes, too much food on the plate can overwhelm a child, or the mother can lose track of how much has been eaten. Make sure you know what a realistic serving size is for the child's age," she said.
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One Katikati mother said what might initially looked like fussy eating was not always the case.
Caroline Casey was having trouble getting her 6-month-old son Blake to eat pureed food. Having breastfed him to that age she said she was following conventional advice to progress him to purees.
"I was almost trying to force him to eat the purees and mashes," she said.
"Half a cup three times a day, that's what you're told, but he wouldn't have a bar of it."
Miss Casey then tried baby-led weaning. Baby-led weaning is the practice of allowing a child to feed themselves from the start of weaning. "The baby will pick at finger food," said Miss Casey. "This can be off your plate or they have their own. He would eat lightly cooked bits of broccoli, carrot and apple.
"I had been spending hours getting all this pureed food prepared but by seven-and-a-half months I just gave up.
"By eight months of age he was eating whole broccoli heads and he's never looked back."
Blake is now 3 and has a baby brother, Jackson, who is 3 months old.
"Everyone comments on how well Blake eats and I put that all down to the baby-led weaning. I will definitely be doing the same with Jackson," she said.
Plunket clinical adviser Allison Jamieson said the advice was different for babies and toddlers.
"Just like adults, babies like some tastes more than others, and you can expect babies to develop their own likes and dislikes. Don't worry too much, as your baby gets older they'll start to enjoy a greater range of tastes and textures," Ms Jamieson said.
"Babies may spit out their first solid foods as they learn to get the food to the back of their mouth and swallow it."
For toddlers, fussy eating should be expected at some stage.
"Toddlers and pre-schoolers have slower growth rates than younger children, so they tend to eat less," Ms Jamieson said.
"Some children will eat and drink everything they're offered, while others have strong likes and dislikes.
"Even the best eaters are fussy at times."