How to Help a Fussy Eater
Guest writer- Dr Jennifer Cohen
The Fussy Eating Doctor
The number 1 question I get asked about fussy eaters is how I can get my fussy eater to try new foods. Fussy eating is so frustrating for parents. There is nothing more stressful than cooking a meal for your family knowing that there is every chance one (or more) of your kids won’t eat the food that you serve.
Fussy eating is a considered a normal part of toddler development and up to 50% of kids are fussy eaters by the age of 2 years. Unfortunately, many families, friends and even healthcare professionals like to tell you that there is nothing to worry about if you have a fussy eater as they will grow out of it. Many kids do eventually grow out of their fussy eating ways, though 20% of fussy eaters will still be fussy at the age of 5. Not all fussy eating is behavioural either. Kids become fussy for so many reasons.
Your child may be a supertaster which means many foods taste bitter to them. Your child may have a sensory processing disorder which means they are very sensitive to the texture, smell or look of food and this can cause fussy eating. Your child may not have learnt the skills to chew and swallow food properly leading to poor oral development or your child may have behavioural fussy eating which is what many kids have and is the normal fussy eating development.
The thing about fussy eating, just ignoring it may not be the best way to help your fussy eater to try new foods. The opposite is also correct. If you focus too much on trying to get your fussy eater to try new foods, this can backfire and make their fussy eating worse. Like any toddler behaviour the more we want a toddler to do something (get dressed, clean up, put on their shoes) the less likely they are to want to do it and eating is no exception. Fussy eating cannot be changed overnight either. Helping your fussy eater to try news foods takes patience and consistency at every meal.
Below are 10 of my recommendations for getting your fussy eater to try new foods:
1. Understand your fussy eater. You need to work out why your child is a fussy eater and some kids will need extra help. I have a free quiz that you can sign up for which goes through the different reasons for fussy eating.
2. Practice the Division of Responsibility: Your job at mealtimes is not to get your child to eat the food, your job is to provide the food you want them to eat and where and at what time the meal will be. It is the child’s job to decide whether they will eat the food or not
3. Serve Veggies at Every Meal: Only 4% of Aussie kids eat enough veggies each day and I know parents of fussy eaters say that veggies are usually the food that fussy eaters are most likely to refuse. If you leave it until dinner when your child is tired to serve veggies they are less likely to eat them. Get into the habit of serving veggies at each snack and each meal…yes even breakfast.
4. Eat Together as a Family: Study after study shows that when parents eat foods in front of their kids, their child is more likely to want to eat the food. Eating together as a family is a great way to model good eating habits to your fussy eater and if you are eating, you are likely to find it easier to ignore your fussy eater when they refuse to eat the meal
5. Considered not Catered Meals: I want you to avoid cooking separate meals for the family. It is too much stressful on you and takes too much time. On the other hand, I don’t want you serving meals you know your fussy eater won’t eat as that can also make mealtimes stressful. You are looking for mealtimes to be considered not catered for your fussy eater. Make sure that each meal has some foods that your fussy eater will eat and always have new foods on the table so your child can be exposed to new foods.
6. Serve a combination of liked and non-liked foods. Point 5 and 6 go together. Your fussy eater is never going to learn to eat new foods if you stop serving the foods, it really is about constant exposure to new foods. Always have foods on the plate that you know your fussy eater will eat but also serve at least one food that your fussy eater is learning to like. They don’t have to eat it, it just needs to be served so they can start getting used to the new food.
7. Try Family-Style Meals. Serving new foods to fussy eaters can be stressful to a child, especially if they are served on the plate in front of them. Putting the meal in the middle of the table and letting your child pick their own food is less stressful for your fussy eater. The new foods may be on the table, so they are seeing the new foods, but they know they won’t be forced to eat the food if it is served on another plate.
8. Watch Your Language. Avoid asking your child to take “one more bite” or that they should eat the food as it is “healthy”. Instead talk about the property of the food and how it can help them.
9. Play with Your Food. Getting kids to take a bite of food is the last step in helping your fussy eater. Letting them play with a food lets your fussy eater feel comfortable with new foods and takes the stress away. You never know they may even lick their fingers afterwards.
10. Aim for small wins. Your fussy eater is not going to start eating new foods overnight. You need to be consistent and have patience with your fussy eater and take the small wins. If your fussy eater is happy to play with a new food, then that is a win with your fussy eater.
As you can see there are a lot of steps to helping your fussy eater to try new foods. Over time your child’s eating can get better but you need to stay consistent with serving new foods at mealtimes and take the small wins as you will need them to keep going. Avoid pushing your child to eat a meal as this may only make fussy eating worse over time. If you would like many more tips and hints for helping your fussy eater then check out my blog at www.drjennifercohen.com or follow me over on Instagram @drjencohen