Tips to manage with a fussy eater

Juggling work and family life, and making sure there is always something nutritious on the table, or in the lunchbox, is a real challenge. Having a fussy eater can make that task even more challenging, and frustrating.

In most cases, fussy eating is often just your child’s way of asserting their ability to make decisions and influence their own lives. Unfortunately, refusing to eat meals, or certain components of meals causes us, as parents, a considerable amount of stress, as one of our innate desires is to ensure the good health of our children by providing them with nourishing foods to support their growing bodies and minds.

There are a few things to consider with fussy eaters:

Are they growing?


If you are still taking your child to their regular visits with their maternal and child health nurse, or even if it has been years since you were carting their little blue/yellow/green book around, find their little health record book and measure their height and weight. Pop your measurements on their charts. Are they growing along the same centiles as they always have? If they are, find some comfort that your child’s body is doing a great job of working how much it needs in order to grow well.

If their weight, or height growth is not continuing along their previous path, it might be worth getting a check up with their Paediatrician to check that there is no underlying cause for their poor appetite and altered growth, which could explain their fussiness.


Keep a food diary for a week.


1. Are any food groups missing? What is being eaten in its place?

2. Is there a time of day that is better or worse than other times?

3. Does your child consume a variety of colours and texture in their diet?

4. Can they manage their meals on their own? For example, at school, are containers too difficult for them to open? Do they know how to peel their fruit?

5. Do they eat on their own/with sibilngs/everyone together as a family?


All of the information you get from your food diary will help guide which food group or nutrients you might focus on, or it may put your mind at ease that their diet isn’t too bad after all.

Don’t worry if your child seems to consume their ‘main meal’ in the middle of the day, rather than in the evening, just try to make the most of whenever their best time is.


What to do with a fussy eater?


1. Try to make meal times a relaxing and enjoyable time

2. Limit the length of a snack/meal time – usually if it is going to be eaten, it will be within 15-20 minutes

3. Try to get your child involved in the cooking/preparation of the meal

4. Grow herbs or vegetables and allow your child to be involved in seed selection, watering, and picking of your home grown produce

5. Make food fun – there are many plates/moulds etc on the market to help with this

6. Offer the foods you want your child to try repeatedly and regularly but don’t insist that they eat it

7. Give lots of praise and positive attention to any positive interaction with new foods

8. Setting up a rewards chart can be helpful for children from about 3 years of age – make it clear what is required of them and what they will get as a result of them trying everything on their plate

9. Ensure that the foods you offer are healthy foods so that even if only small amounts are consumed, you can rest assured that they are getting the nutrition they need



What to avoid doing with a fussy eater


1. Give lots of attention to any ‘bad’ behaviour or food refusal

2. Prepare them alternate meals regularly

3. Bribe them with food rewards – this can put a high value on poor nutritional quality foods

4. Force your child to consume more than they want


It is important to remember that changing the habits of a fussy eater takes time and a lot of patience. Try to get everyone who prepares or eats meals with your children to take a consistent approach in the management of their fussiness.

If you are worried that your child’s diet is lacking in a range of nutrients, it may be worthwhile bringing them to see us to help provide you with some specific strategies to ensure they have adequate nutrition to grow up big and strong!

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