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Are British toddlers the pickiest eaters in Europe?

WebMD UK Health News
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks
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21st January 2013 - A new survey suggests toddlers in the UK may be pickier eaters than children elsewhere in Europe.

69% of British toddlers refuse some food, putting them at the top of the food refusal league table. 13% reject some food at every meal and 8% often throw food they don’t like at the wall or on the floor.

Experts have offered us some handy dos and don'ts for coping with fussy eaters.

The survey

1,005 mums of under 5s in the UK and 1,531 mums of toddlers in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Sweden and The Netherlands were questioned online for the website, run by Cow & Gate.

43% of UK mums allow their toddler to avoid eating certain foods. Nearly 38% give up in the first five minutes of the mealtime.

At 39%, the UK also topped the survey for rewarding good behaviour or eating well with sugary treats. Britain was second only to The Netherlands in being least likely to offer at least one home-cooked meal a day.

Healthy eating needs

51% of UK mums get frustrated by their fussy eater.

The survey suggests more could be done to let parents know about healthy eating requirements. 69% of mums said they received no guidance on toddlers' nutritional needs. 18% had no idea if their child was overweight or obese.

Expert tips

BootsWebMD turned to the British Dietetic Association for expert tips for parents coping with picky eaters.

BDA spokesperson Azmina Govindji tells us there are some 'don'ts' to remember, including don’t make children clear their plate. "This breeds an unhealthy relationship with food. Fussy eaters tend to have mums who nag them to eat - using a milder approach may be more successful," Azmina says.

Other tips include not serving children more than they need and don't use food as a reward: "As soon as a food becomes a reward, it becomes more desirable. And that means the foods you don't use as a reward become less attractive. Using sweets as a reward just makes them have an unhealthy relationship with sweet foods and this can stay with them into adult life."

Among the 'do's' the BDA recommends, there's leading by example, taking care about what children pick up if a parent is on a diet. Mealtimes, the BDA says should be free of distractions, such as the TV, phones and gadgets.

Sneaking more veg into food can help, such as adding chopped red pepper into tomato sauces, grated carrot into bolognese and mashed cauliflower or swede in mashed potato.

Sugar can be reduced by mixing sugary cereals with lower sugar varieties. Avoid sugary fizzy drinks by offering water and occasional diluted fruit juice.

The BDA also recommends picking low-fat sausages, fish fingers and oven chips and to grill or oven bake them instead of frying.

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