Fussy eating is very common amongst young children. Some children are extremely restrictive with what they will eat, whereas others will be more versatile. Over time, children tend to grow out of this behaviour but it can be very stressful for their parents in the meantime. Our dietitian has expertise and experience with helping families who have children with fussy eating habits. This article provides general advice and is not a substitute for a consultation with a dietitian and nutritionist. To make an appointment with a dietitian and nutritionist for children with fussy eating habits, contact us today.
It is important to remember first that even children who are fussy eaters usually eat enough to receive the nutrition they need. Of course, it would be preferable if they were receiving a wider variety of foods but this can be much easier said than done. This is an important point because many parents give in to the thinking that it is better for their child to eat something opposed to nothing. It is understandable as to why this happens (due to stress, frustration, concern for the child) but unfortunately it often means fattier, more processed types of foods are given. The child will also become accustomed to receiving this type of food – making the introduction of healthier options even harder and encouraging fussy eating.
The following list provides tips that may help to get your child eating a wider variety of foods.
- Make mealtimes a family event. Sometime this can be difficult due to early bedtimes or late work times. However, it is a good idea if you can schedule in time to sit down as a family to eat. Don’t have distractions like TV on in the background.
- Keep meal times at a similar time each day. Forming a routine can increase your child’s hunger around those meal times.
- Eat the same or similar foods to what your child is eating (past the age of 1). Serving up the same meals to the whole family can make a child more inclined to eat what is on their plate. This is particularly true if they are strongly influenced by their siblings, which is commonly the case.
- Don’t punish your child for refusing food. Instead, focus on positive behaviour like them testing a new food. Fussy eating tends to be more of a behavioural issue opposed to children disliking foods so it is important to manage it appropriately.
- Do not force your child to eat or negotiate with them. If they refuse a food, ignore their tantrum and safely store their meal away for later. When your child is hungry, re-offer them the meal they previously passed up on. A healthy child will not allow themselves to go hungry and once they realise there is no alternative (e.g. chicken nuggets, fish fingers), they are more inclined to try the meal you have given.
- Leading on from the previous point – do not offer food as a reward. This can make fussy eating worse.
- Trial offering small meals more frequently. Cease this if they are not hungry for their main meals due to mid meal snacks.
- Children are greatly influenced by others so lead by example. It is a good idea for the rest of the family to eat a wide variety of healthy foods as much as possible.
- Don’t fill your child up with fluid too close to a meal. Save water (etc) for between meal times. Children’s stomachs are small and they will fill easily.
- Some children are very slow eaters – do not rush them or this can make them stressed and less likely to continue eating.
- Allow your child to serve themselves or choose what foods they would like to eat (from healthy options). The choice and independence can encourage them to want to eat it.
- Get your child involved in simple food preparation. This can also encourage them to eat the food they are preparing. Children often love cooking and want to test what they have helped to make.
- Keep in mind that your child’s meal portions will be much smaller than yours. Sometimes serving children large portions can put them off eating. Try serving up a smaller portion and see if they are more inclined to finish that. You can always serve them up more if they are still hungry.
- Don’t offer too few or too many options. You do not want to limit them to the one food or to overwhelm them with too many. Place 2 – 3 options on a plate.
- Children’s taste buds are very acute, much more so than adults. For this reason, foods offered should not be over powering in terms of sweet, sour, bitter or salty tastes, etc.
- Sometimes having had a sore throat or pain from teething can put children off certain foods/ textures and can cause food aversions. Do not ignore any pain or force your child to eat.
- Persevere! Children will reject food – it is very unusual that a child is open to trying many new things, so perseverance is the key. It can take 10-12 attempts of exposing a child to a new food until they even try it. So continue to offer the food – it is a good sign if they even begin to play with the food or lick it.
Variety is important for your children to receive a range of different nutrients. Additionally, if you expose your children to a wider range of foods as a kid, they are more inclined to like them as an adult – even if they disliked them when they were young.
If you are concerned about your child’s weight, development or that they are simply not eating enough, it may be a good idea to make an appointment with a dietitian. This can help to put your mind at ease and to ensure your child is healthy.
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This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have any questions about fussy eaters or other nutrition related issues, make an appointment for specialist care. We‘ll provide you with simple and effective advice targeted to your concerns. Contact us today!
The link below will direct you to the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating for children: