10 tips for feeding your fussy eater

Posted: 17-09-2015

By Jess Ferguson

We all want the best for our children, and that includes healthy eating habits. But sometimes a child will just refuse to eat part or all of the family meal, or refuse certain foods, which can be frustrating and worrisome. Below are 10 practical tips to help your child develop better eating habits, many of which are based on the ideas presented by Ellyn Satter’s model of division of responsibility in feeding.

Fussy eating

1. Be a good role model

Children are more likely to eat healthy foods if they see their parents eating healthy foods. If you, as a parent, do not eat vegetables, neither will your child. The ideal situation for modelling your good eating habits would be around a table as you all eat your meal together.

2. Don’t make separate meals for your child

Your child will not learn to eat a variety of food if you only serve what he likes to eat. Offer him food from the “family pot”, but always serve one food you know your child will eat (for example, bread, milk, rice, potatoes) so that he won’t go hungry.

3. Keep mealtimes pleasant and relaxed
Let your child eat with his fingers and be messy. Don’t expect good table manners yet. That way he will want to come to the table to eat. It is important that mealtimes do not become a power struggle.

4. Set regular meals and snack times
Offer 3 meals and 2-3 snacks at regular times each day, and rather don’t let your child graze or eat throughout the day. Stick to water in between meals and snacks, as even a little milk, juice or few crackers can spoil your child’s appetite. This will help your child come to the table hungry and ready to try new foods.

5. Make your child’s food interesting
Make different shapes with bread, cheese and vegetables. Let your child cut out different shapes with a cookie cutter. Identify different colours and shapes with your child. This will help your child show more interest in his food.


6. Seat your child securely at the table
Avoid distractions such as the phone, TV, computer, radio and toys at the table. This will help you and your child to focus on eating.

7. Offer a variety of foods at each meal.
It is important to offer new foods to your child, so that he can start eating a variety of foods. Serve new foods in small amounts along with familiar food, when your child is healthy and hungry, and serve them in different ways. Carrots can be mashed, soft cooked or grated into muffins or meatloaf. Don’t be discouraged if your child does not like new foods on the first try, because it can sometimes take 15 - 20 tastes before a child likes a new food. Textures are also important to learn, and the way a child is given its first solids is an important learning process. However, some kids might just not like mashed carrot but love boiled carrot. That is also ok. 

8. Let your child decide if and how much to eat from the food you serve.
Your child’s appetite can vary depending on growth spurts, activity level, whether he is tired or ill, and where he is eating (for example at home or at day care). Trust that his body will let him know when he is hungry or full. Give him smaller portions and let him ask for more. As he gets older he can serve himself. Children do not have to finish all the food on their plate, rather let them self-regulate, as this will help later in life with weight management.

9. Avoid pressure, praise, rewards, tricks or punishment.
Children do not eat well when they are pressured to eat. If your child is normally reluctant to eat, as he starts the next meal rather try starting an amusing conversation or tell him an exciting activity that you are doing with him tomorrow. This may make him “forget” to refuse the foods. If your child refuses a meal or does not eat anything in about 10-15 minutes, calmly remove his food. Let them know that they will only be offered food again at the next meal or snack.

10. Grow, pick, cook and shop for food together.
Your child will be more open to trying new foods if he is involved in the purchasing and cooking of the food. List a selection of vegetable for that meal and let your child choose 2. Get your child involved in food preparation, even if it just putting the vegetables in the pot. A great way to get your child interested in vegetables is to start their own vegetable garden. Children will seldom refuse a vegetable when they know they have grown it themselves!

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