The Mealtime Battlefield: Tips for Dealing with a Fussy Eater
If you are faced with a child who is a ‘fussy eater or picky eater’, meal times 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 (that’s how babies explore new things) and you might get ‘the look of disgust’, but 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 leads to stressful meal times. 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 meal times 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 pudding is the treat for having suffered broccoli.
6. Let them learn from others
Family mealtimes have lots of benefits, one of them being the chance for your child to learn from role models. You can also invite friends over for dinner so your child can learn from them – only don’t criticise your child for not being as good as their friend, as this can knock their confidence. Showing them is more useful than telling them how 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 raw vegetable, or grated rather than chopped, and that’s absolutely fine.
‘Fussy eating’ is fairly common, particularly around the preschool age. But it can be worrying for parents if their child refuses to eat certain foods, as they may not be getting enough important nutrients. The sooner ‘fussy eating’ is managed the better, as this can affect your child’s eating habits in later life.
When to worry
You may want to speak to your GP if:
- Your child’s diet is extremely limited, 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)
Categorised in: parenting advice
This post was written by Anna Taylor