Dealing With Fussy Eaters

I am sure majority of you have had an encounter with the ‘Fussy Eater’, which has left you feeling frustrated, upset and stressed. Whether it is breakfast, lunch or dinner, you have taken the time out of your day to prepare a delicious and nutritious meal which you know will give your kids all the nutrients and energy they need, yet you are left feeling heart broken and frustrated when they reject this meal even to the point of not even trying it! You start to think, “what is the point” and “why do I bother”. Each mealtime becomes stressful and less enjoyable for you and your children.

Children learn by testing the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. They can be very strong willed when it comes to making decisions about food (to eat or not to eat, and what to eat). It’s all part of their social, intellectual and emotional development.

With our time being so precious and valuable, if your children aren’t going to even take the time to try the food that you are preparing, you start to offer them less nutritious options such as sugar laden cereal for breakfast, packaged foods for lunch and then fast food take away options for dinner because you know that it will get eaten. However without realising it, the food that we give our children can have a significant impact on their mood, energy and even ability to concentrate. Our children’s lives are so busy with their full days of school, extra-curricular activities after school and then social events and sporting games on the weekend, we need to fuel them correctly to be able to handle it all.

1. Model behaviour – Encourage healthy eating in your children by eating this way yourself. Children tend to mimic what we do, so if they see their parents eating vegetables such as broccoli and pumpkin with their meal, they will be more inclined to give that food a go. Where possible, share your meal.

2. Be sneaky – If your children do not eat a range of vegetables, pureeing soups or adding grated veggies to dishes such as Bolognese sauce, meatballs, burgers or casseroles are a great way to incorporate more vegetables into their meals. Smoothies are also a good way to incorporate different fruits and vegetables. Make a smoothie that turns out to be the colour that your child loves.

3. Encourage taste testing – Have 2 plates of food. Plate 1 has the food you know that your children are going to enjoy eating and Plate 2 has three different foods cut up into very small pieces that you would like them to try. The child takes alternating mouthfuls from each plate. If there is a food on Plate 2 that is too horrible for your child to contemplate, then there is always another option for them on that plate.

4. Take a relaxed approach – Setting expectations too high at mealtimes usually creates a more stressful experience for all. Make meal times a happy social occasion. Try not to worry about the spilt drink on the floor, or the food falling off the plate. Instead praise your child for trying new foods.

5. Make the food look attractive, make the plate colourful and cut the food into different shapes and sizes.

6. Avoid unhealthy foods – it’s very tempting to offer your child food treats just so she ‘eats something’. But if you offer fatty, sugary or salty snacks as substitutes, your child might start refusing healthier foods – after all, they’ll know there are tastier options!

7. Give your child some independence with their food – Get your child involved in preparing meals. They will feel proud and more inclined to try something that they have made. You can also try letting your child making choices within a range of healthier food options.

8. Ignore unwanted behaviour - If a child refuses to eat (or constantly spits out their food, or carries on with any bad behaviour) and receives attention for it, the end result is that they will continue to use the unwanted behaviour to get more attention. So, in these instances sometimes the best thing you can do is to ignore it.

9. Set regular meal times – On average a child needs to eat every 2.5-3 hours, so if they graze throughout the day and eat within 2-2.5 hours of a meal, it will take the edge off their hunger and they may be less likely to eat at mealtime. If they don’t eat at a particular meal time, take the plate away and make them wait until the next meal or snack time rather then allowing them to continue coming back and grazing off the plate.

10. Don’t give up – Fussy eaters can wear you down, but on average it takes 10 times for a child to try a particular food and get positive reinforcement.

So if you are dealing with a fussy eater, I hope you will find it comforting to know that you are not the only one that is experiencing these battles and keep in mind that it’s just a stage and IT WILL PASS!​


Keren is the founder of Vital Assurance, and hopes to bring to you her passion for healthy eating and living.

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