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Speaking to Woman Magazine earlier this month, Gino said: “My kids are not allowed to be fussy eaters. The problem with fussy children is their stupid parents.” The chef’s comments caused heated debate – is there such thing as a fussy child?
Express.co.uk spoke to both parents of fussy eaters, as well as professional nutritionists, to hear their opinions.
For some parents, their child being fussy was a problem they went to lengths to solve, while for others, the “fussiness” could not be helped due to a deeper reason.
Some children are “fussy” because they are autistic, have an eating disorder, or are dealing with another specific issue.
Clair Belmont, a freelance writer and mother of a 22-month-old boy, based in Chicago, wanted to make sure early on that her child would not turn out to be fussy.
She said: “When our son was born, our pediatrician recommended skipping puréed baby foods because ‘children who aren’t exposed to texture early have a higher likelihood of being picky eaters’.
“We started introducing appropriately sized foods at six months and now our two-year-old eats very literally everything.”
Clair also credited Instagram accounts for giving her and her partner ideas on what to feed their son.
These included the pages Kids Eat In Color and Solid Starts.
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For Clair, it was important that her son eats everything and is “adventurous” because she “grew up with an autistic brother who was a very picky eater most of his life, and I saw how much of a struggle that was for my mom making more than one meal per mealtime every day”.
She added: “We wanted to encourage our son to enjoy more foods and introduce him to as many foods as possible, so we can continue to enjoy stress-free meals together throughout his childhood.”
Rebecca Woollard, 37, from Kent is a food editor and a mother to a four-year-old boy who went through “an extremely fussy phase between 18 months and around three”.
Interestingly, Rebecca said “the fussiness only extended to eating around us – at his childminder’s he ate everything she gave him. She was Bangladeshi and cooked traditional Bangladeshi food so he had a very varied diet with her”.
Rebecca thought Gino’s comments about parents being “stupid” were “crass and uninformed”.
She added: “I think, as with most things, it’s a lot more complex than simply whose fault is it.
“A certain amount of fussiness and neophobia in small children is absolutely normal and shouldn’t be treated with punishment or anger.
“Some children also have psychological issues around food, or other behavioural problems, that will manifest themselves as issues with eating and that’s entirely separate.
“However, I have noticed among parents, often an assumption, that their children won’t like something or won’t eat something before they’ve tried it, and I think this often leads to the child deciding they won’t eat certain things.”
Rebecca’s son is not what she would describe as a “fussy eater” but, when he did go through a “really bad” phase, she said she would “inevitably relent and eventually offer him what he wanted”.
The 37-year-old said it was lockdown that made her son eat everything again as “he was away from everyone else and just had to give in to eating the food I cooked eventually”.
For Carol Roberts, 50, who is a teacher based in north Wales, giving in to what her son wanted to eat – or didn’t want to – was her approach too.
When her son, now 21, was a toddler, he would refuse to eat “green stuff” even though his sisters were brought up in the same way and ate “everything”.
“After a while, I realised there was no point – he was still getting the nutrition he needed from potatoes and some of the other food he liked, so I thought, ‘Fine, he doesn’t have to eat everything’,” Carol explained.
Ami Sheward, 49, is a nutritional therapist from Cheltenham and she too did not treat her children differently while they were growing up but now has to “make separate meals for them most of the time”.
She said: “Both of my children were fed the same foods growing up. I cooked everything from scratch and they both used to eat everything.
“When they started primary school this is when the fussy eating began, I feel that they were unknowingly influenced by what their friends used to eat at lunch and break time.”
But what does Ami do about this?
“I used to fuss over them and discuss it way too much, I now give them what they will eat and I try and encourage them to try new things,” the mother-of-two explained.
“Being teenagers, this is tough. I’m hoping they will get through the phase and come back round to eating everything again.”
She added: “I personally don’t draw attention to food when we eat, if they ask what is for dinner I won’t tell them until I’m dishing up.”
Ruth Micallef, a sub-specialised eating disorders counsellor shared her professional opinion with Express.co.uk.
Speaking about Gino’s comments, she said: “I think using shame as a tool in any conversation is unconstructive and often detrimental to growth from any party involved.
“Firstly, all children will go through a spectrum of a ‘fussy’ phase as they are born with the instinct to reject new ‘bitter-tasting’ foods that could be poisonous and be attracted to sweeter ones that mimic the mother’s breast milk.
“The problem becomes that our society, which is filled with pre-prepared over-sugared foods, make them vulnerable to early over-consumption of extremely sweet foods, and therefore even more likely to reject ‘bitter-tasting’ foods.
“In this phase of a child’s development, we want to be safely navigating them towards more bitter foods in fun, interesting ways without coercion or pressure, and ensure we are leading by example.”
As a mother herself, Ruth added: “As parents, most of us are trying to be ‘good enough’, and that’s okay.
“If you feel like you need more support with your own, or your child disordered eating, do reach out to a registered professional.”
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