The Mealtime Battlefield: Tips for Dealing with a Fussy Eater

May 11, 2016 Published by

 If you are faced with a child who is a fussy or picky eater, mealtimes can be stressful. You want to do right by your child, but does that mean accepting that they’ll only be eating that one pea, or giving in and letting them survive on spaghetti hoops?

Here are ten tips for dealing with a ‘fussy eater’:

 

1. Let babies play with their food

Fussy eating is common with babies, who are moving from the familiar and consistent taste and texture of milk to something very different. Your baby may want to feel and play with the food – this is how babies explore new things after all. While you might get a look of disgust, it’s all part of trying something new!

2. Don’t label them a ‘fussy eater’ 

Doing this shows that you expect your child to be picky about the food they will eat, so they won’t bother trying. Instead remain positive and never assume that they won’t like something. They might have changed their mind!

3. Don’t react to your child’s eating habits

Arguments about food can be a source of control and attention for children and this can lead to stressful mealtimes. At the same time, watching your child eating can make your child more anxious about meal times. Focus on eating your own meal and making conversation, so that mealtimes can be enjoyable. 

4. Don’t force your child to finish their meal

Again, this can lead to stress and arguments and is unlikely to help anyone. Let them eat what they want from the plate, then calmly take it away when they’ve finished. Let them know that they won’t be getting anything else, but don’t nag about what they haven’t eaten.

5. Don’t use pudding as a bribe

This gives the message that the main meal is a bad thing, and that pudding is the treat for having suffered broccoli.

6. Let them learn from others

Family mealtimes have lots of benefits, one of them is that it’s a perfect chance for your child to learn from role models. You can also invite friends over for dinner so your child can learn from them, especially if they are more adventurous in their eating habits. Make sure you don’t compare them, but by showing will always be more helpful than telling them what to eat.

7. Appeal to their interests and make food fun

You don’t have to start carving hedgehogs out of pineapple, simply giving something a fun name or getting it to ‘talk’ will appeal to a child’s imaginative side. Every child is different and you know them better than anyone – use this to make food more appealing. For example, if they love football, give them a piece of orange and tell them it’s what footballers have at half time.

8. Avoid snacking and use smaller portion sizes

They might not want the food because they aren’t hungry, so avoid snacks and drinks (other than water) in between meals. There may also be too much on their plate – try reducing the amount you give your child each mealtime.

9. Let them help prepare the meal

Take your child to the shop and help them pick out the ingredients for a meal, then let them assist with the preparation. They’ll feel valued because they’ve had a choice in what they’re eating from the start, get to see what’s going into the meal, and can feel proud when they present their meal to the rest of the family. The mess is worth it!

10. Keep encouraging them to try something new

Introduce new foods one at a time – don’t pressure your child to eat them, but at least give them the chance. Remember that your child’s preferences might be different to your own – just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean they won’t. You’ll be surprised what they’ll take to! If your child doesn’t want to eat something, try giving it to them in a different way – some children prefer vegetables raw, or grated rather than chopped, and that’s absolutely fine.

It  might be time to speak to your GP if:

  • Your child’s diet is extremely limited and meals are frequently rejected
  • Their ‘fussy eating’ lasts for a long time (rather than occasional fussiness, which can be due to factors such as food intolerance or discomfort due to constipation)
  • Their eating habits appear to be affecting health, behaviour or weight
  • Your child shows a lot of anxiety around eating (possibly making themselves sick)

Summary

Fussy eating is fairly common, particularly around the preschool age, so try not to worry too much. However, it is understandable to feel worried if your child refuses certain foods as a good amount of variety means they are getting access to different and important nutrients.

The sooner fussy eating is managed, the better, as it will allow your child to develop healthy eating habits later in life, so try some of our tips and see if they can help make exploring different foods more fun.

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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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