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Fussy eaters 101
For some families, mealtimes can be a war zone. Here’s everything you need to know to win the battle against your fussy eater.
What is fussy eating?
‘Fussy’ or ‘picky’ eating can be very frustrating for families. A ‘fussy’ eater is generally a child who refuses to try new foods or one who will only eat certain types of food or textures of food. It can be a real problem when children will only eat some textures, temperatures or colours, and in the process avoid a range of other foods.
Some children are sensitive to certain textures; these are commonly called ‘sensory’ difficulties. Sensory difficulties are often associated with ‘fussy’ eating and need to be considered when evaluating a child’s mealtime skills.
For some, it’s just part of growing up. For toddlers, who are in the thick of learning independence, it can be typical to express tantrums or refuse food, which can lead to frustration.
While it’s natural for a parent to be concerned about their child’s nutritional intake, if your child is healthy, growing appropriately and has enough energy, it’s likely they’re getting enough food. However, if you’re concerned about what types and how much food your child is consuming it is best to seek the advice of a General Practitioner (GP), Paediatrician or a Dietitian.
How can I encourage more positive mealtimes?
Keep things fun! Meals should be pleasurable and an opportunity to be social and interact positively with your child, in a calm environment. As the parent:
- Set the menu, including when and how much they eat.
- Always aim to keep meals balanced with a range of nutrients.
- Offer variety, the choice can help empower kids learning independence.
- Aim to include foods from the five food groups.
- Be a healthy role model, let your child see you eat a balanced diet filled with fruit and vegetables.
- Offer ‘new’ foods in small portions and consider trying more than once (you may need to offer the food on 10-15 different occasions before your child accepts the food).
- Serve your child the same foods as the rest of the family.
- Avoid using treat foods to bribe your child to eat more.
- Have water as the main drink, with full cream milk recommended up until 2 years of age. Toddlers need no more than 600mls of milk daily to help meet their calcium needs. However, remember, too much milk can be very filling for your child’s small tummy and therefore reduce their appetite to eat other foods.
- Avoid serving cordial, fruit juice and soft drinks. These are high in sugar and not necessary for your child.
A few more handy tips
- Toddlers thrive better on structure and routine. Have a regular mealtime routine; 3 main meals and 2-3 small snacks in between the main meals.
- Limit “grazing” as your child will not learn to feel hungry or full. Aim for a 2-3-hour gap between each eating time to allow your child to develop a good appetite.
- Try to keep meals at the dinner table, with the TV turned off and the devices put away.
- Give your child time to eat – 30 minutes is a good time for main meals.
- Praise your child for their good behaviour at the table and try not to focus on how much they are eating. For example, “You’re sitting so nicely at the table”.
- Try encouraging your child to smell, touch and taste new food before eating or rejecting the food.
Help! I’ve tried everything and my child still won’t eat
If you’re continuing to have difficulties with your child’s ‘fussy’ eating you should discuss these with your Paediatrician or GP.
You might also want to see a Dietitian or Speech-Language Pathologist, who can assess your child’s feeding and swallowing, as well as observe your child eating and drinking to look at their posture, behaviour and the movements of their mouth and swallow during a meal. A dietitian can also assess the nutritional adequacy of your child’s intake and develop a management plan to ensure your child meets their optimum nutritional and fluid requirements.
If you would like more ideas for ways to help, please contact the Growing Early Minds team on 1800 436 436 .
Over to you
Do you struggle to make mealtimes relaxing and enjoyable? Is your child a fussy eater? What are some ways you’ve tried to help your picky eater?
Disclaimer: The information here is provided on a general basis. You’re encouraged to consult with your General Practitioner (GP), an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) or a Paediatrician (child doctor) if you have any concerns.