David Coleman Column: My boy is a fussy eater – will this harm his health?
Published 16/07/2013 | 05:00
My SEVEN-YEAR-OLD son is a very fussy eater and at this stage I have tried everything to get him to eat properly. He eats no vegetables or meat; his dinners consist of plain pasta or potato croquettes.
This all started when he was three. He ate everything up till then; potatoes with mixed veg, stews, spaghetti bolognaise, chicken, etc. But he slowly went off everything, saying he didn't like the taste, and used to gag while eating.
He did eat potatoes and beans or potato and broccoli for a couple of years after this but in the last two years has got worse.
I am strict enough on treats and snacks and by dinner he is starving but will still only eat croquettes or pasta.
He does eat yoghurts, bread, fruit, cheese, and he drinks those pro-biotic drinks, too, but I still worry he will suffer because of a lack of vitamins and goodness. I do give him a tonic.
On the other hand, he is healthy, rarely sick and very active in GAA and all outdoor activities.
I try to tell him that all his favourite GAA, rugby and soccer idols eat really well but it doesn't make a difference.
He is a very happy little fellow with a great personality and is so funny, if only he would eat more for me.
Have you any advice you can give me? Should I just let him carry on as is and hope he will eventually grow out of it?
Yes, I do think you should let him carry on as he is and he will probably change and adapt his eating habits as he gets older.
That said, I think it is also very natural for parents to worry about what children eat.
At heart, we can fear that if they don't eat, they will fade away and die! However, starvation is not a natural choice for children and so, when left to their own devices, they do eat.
The difficulty we face is that often they don't eat what we want them to eat nor do they seem to eat what we consider to be nutritious or wholesome foods.
Your phrase near the end of your query, "if only he would eat more for me", is quite telling in many respects. Why would he eat for you? Surely he should be eating for himself?
Your desire for him to eat for you perhaps reflects your over-investment in his eating habits.
As you describe things, your son does get a balance of different food types and you supplement this with a tonic for additional vitamins and minerals.
You know that he is healthy, fit and active and always seems to have the energy to maintain this. That suggests to me that your son is doing okay.
I always find it interesting that we don't seem to tolerate food preferences in children, even though we will almost always facilitate them in adults.
So if your sister, for example, declined to eat meat, or chose not to have vegetables with a meal, you would probably say nothing.
When your son makes the same choice, though, it becomes an issue. I think that children are often adventurous in their eating at some points in their lives and very conservative at other times.
If we just go with the flow, then food and eating rarely become a point of conflict. Children then are more likely to return to adventurous eating at later points in their lives.
When food, eating or mealtimes become a battle-ground because we fight with them about what they are or are not eating, then we run the risk of creating a very negative association for them with the very foods we want them to taste.
In many situations, children then don't eat because it is bound up in a power and control conflict and that is worth trying to avoid!
So, for now, just let things be and try to pull back from rowing with your son about his diet.
Do offer him new foods and new tastes (or the chance to taste foods he used to enjoy) but do it in a genuine atmosphere of experimentation. Let him make his choices in freedom.