Fussy eating is one of the most common concerns for parents when it comes to their child’s nutrition. And I totally get it, I know first-hand just how frustrating and disheartening it can be.
As parents we go to so much effort to provide our kids with nutritious food, only for them to turn their nose up at it and often throw it on the floor.
A big thing to remember (and lower the stress levels) Is that our job as parents is to decide when and what our kids eat, but It is their job to decide if they eat the food and if so, how much. Don’t take it personally, it is very normal for your child to go through phases of being a fussy eater.
These phases, just like any other, will pass…. eventually.
Persistence, encouragement and praise are key components to getting your child through this phase and as parents we need to embrace this as best we can.
An important part of managing fussy eating behaviour is to make mealtimes as calm and relaxed as possible. Some ways you might be able to do this include:
- Being prepared. Planning ahead allows you to have the food ready to prepare and the meal in mind so there isn’t a mad rush at meal times
- Serve meals at an early time so that your child isn’t starving or tired when it’s time to eat
- Where possible, eat as a family or just sit down with your child while they are eating
- Limit all distractions at meal times (including TV, iPads, toys etc) and spend the time talking and connecting
When preparing meals for fussy eaters I encourage parents to always serve a ‘safe food’ with the meal. ‘Safe foods’ are foods that you know your child will feel comfortable with and most likely eat. This could be toast, pasta, cheese, or in my household wraps. You can then present new foods (or the foods they feel less comfortable with) alongside this in a small portion to not overwhelm them (and reduce the amount of food waste). You can build on this as your child becomes more confident.
Practical tips I have also found useful include:
- Separating the ingredients into different sections so that your child can see exactly what is in there (i.e. a stir fry would have the chicken, vegetables and rice all in different piles).
- Serving the food on a divided plate, especially if your child doesn’t like different foods to touch each other on their plate.
- Serving out the meal before you have added any sauce, so there is less flavour for them.
During mealtimes, if your child says ‘I don’t like that’, tell them ‘that’s OK’! I often say something along the lines of ‘just leave it on your plate and eat the foods you want’. During the meal, you can encourage them to have a try of the food but avoid pushing too hard or bribing your child to eat.
If they don’t eat it, but have left in on their plate, that’s perfectly fine! Next time, they may decide to touch it, smell it or move it around – this is all progress. Eventually, they might surprise you and actually try the food!
And just so you have very realistic expectations, this process could take weeks, months or even years, but the key is to keep going. Don’t add any extra pressure (to yourself or to your child).
Celebrate the small wins by offering praise and encouragement and watch their confidence grow. You’ve got this!
Disclaimer: if you are concerned that your child’s fussy eating is more than just a phase, please discuss this with your GP or paediatrician.
Nicola is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and the owner of kids nutrition business, Grub for Kids. With over 7 years of experience as a dietitian and 3 young kids of her own, Nicola aims to educate, inspire and reduce the stress of parents when it comes to feeding their kids.
You can connect with Nicola via the links below: