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Fussy Eaters

Helping children at mealtimes fussy

Mealtimes can be highly frustrating when your fussy child refuses to eat your food, or eats only certain foods. Children can be picky eaters, and while it’s frustrating, most pediatricians will tell you that as long as a child’s growth pattern is appropriate, don’t worry. A child’s appetite fluctuates daily during the growing years, as do their calorie needs.

A child’s growth typically comes in spurts, and energy requirements vary widely among children. In general, if your child is growing well, and not losing weight or getting fat, then he/she is probably eating enough volume.

Limit snacks

If your child is a fussy eater don’t be tempted to give them snacks before mealtimes. It’s easy to think the snacks can compensate for their lack of eating at mealtimes. Even if the snacks are healthy, they are fi lling your child up so they are less likely to be hungry at meal times. If you want your child to eat at meal times, cut back or eliminate snacks.

Reduce fluid intake immediately before meals

Fluids take away our craving for food. So try to keep that little tummy empty right before meal times. Resist giving your child a drink 15 minutes before a meal.


In general, try to offer a variety of foods at meal times

Some children get bored with eating the same meals every week. A bit of variety can work wonders.

Teach your child about nutrition

Explain to them how the body needs certain foods and where they are found, and what they do for us.

Involve your child in meal planning and shopping

If children feel like they are part of things, they are more likely to get involved.

Let your child help prepare a meal

Younger children can stir, cut, decorate, make a salad, and set the table. It’s amazing what children can do, so put your child to work. Preparation builds appetite and teaches responsibility too.

Try disguising food

For example, if your child doesn’t like bananas, whip them up in a milkshake.

Eat with your child

By setting a good example and making meals a family time where you share daily experiences, children are more likely to eat better. Your child likes being with you – that’s how they get their belongingness needs met. So make meal times, family times. Your child will look forward to them.

Encourage tasting new things

The ‘no-thank-you rule’ is a great way to get children to taste new food. Instruct your child to take one bite of each item on their plate before getting a second helping of anything. If they don’t like something they like saying ‘no-thank-you’ to the second bite.

Don’t offer too much at one time

Sometimes a child is overwhelmed by plates that are heaped with a lot of food.

Use games with small children

For example, draw a happy face on a sheet of paper. Each time your child takes a bite of food, have her add a ray to make the sun shine. Or take out a bag of blocks. For each bite eaten, your child gets one block to add to a tower or castle.

Start meal time traditions

Meal times are wonderful opportunities to create happy family memories. Try making one night a week special. In my home we make Friday night special. We have special food, put a candle on the table. After the meal we play games, or do activities that are fun. Today my sons are 21 and 18! And we still do it, only now they bring their friends home to enjoy the fun Friday night meal.

Do not make separate meals

Don’t become a ‘fast food’ cook for your child. That is, you constantly have to prepare a different meal for your child. If they say they want an egg, you cook an egg, even though the rest of the family are having something different. It’s unlikely to help out the situation anyway.

Don’t comment if your child does not eat

Avoid constantly telling your child to eat. The more attention you put on eating their food, the more meal times become a battleground over food.

Use plenty of praise

If your child only takes a few bites, praise him/her for doing so, and try and stay away from negative comments.

If your child refuses to eat, make her remain at the table until everyone else has finished.

It’s a natural tendency when you have been at work all day, to come home rushed. There is so much to do at home and so little time! But rushed meals are a red light to a child that has been separated from you all day.

If they feel you are not giving them the attention they need, they will use meal times to cause disruptions so they get your attention! They fi gure, better bad attention than no attention. Having pleasant, relaxed meal times lessens the need for misbehaviour at meal times.

Final Thoughts

There are many causes of Fussy eating but a commonly forgotten cause is the “Alpha” instinct in children.  If your child thinks they are in control in the family, if they are the boss instead of Mum or Dad, children can use eating as a ‘weapon’ against their parents, to show that the child is in charge.  If this is the case parents need extra help.  Eating is so essential to a child’s good health and wellbeing that this issue must be solved. If you suspect that this could be the reason your child is a fussy eater, then please contact us for more help.

Further, if your child has a specific or quirky mannerism regarding food, e.g. will only eat white food, will only eat carbohydrates etc. then please see our “Understanding the Highly Sensitive Child” post as these issues can be more serious and specific advice to your situation is needed. The generic advice provided above is highly unlikely to work in these situations.

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