Being fussy with food is almost a rite of passage for toddlers. In fact nearly 50% of parents would class their children as fussy eaters. But actually, in many cases they’re probably not being particularly fussy, but just trying to exert a bit of control over their lives or seeking attention.
Fussy eating usually comes in the form of not wanting to try new foods (a fear of new things which is a natural human trait), and therefore only want to eat a few familiar favourites. It can also be a dislike of fruit, or veg (or both!), anything green, anything with lumps or bits, anything that doesn’t resemble a pizza… And in some cases, the child just isn’t interested in food. And if it seems you already have a fussy eater when your child is only just starting out at 6 months, try to remember that for 6 months all they’ve had is milk. Solid food is a whole new world to get to grips with so be patient!
The key with fussy eating is not to let it become a major issue otherwise mealtimes will become something that everyone dreads. Instead, try and keep calm and lead by example. It’s also worth remember that if you have bad eating habits, your children probably will have too.
And try not to worry too much about if your child is getting enough nutrition. In most cases of fussy eating, the child is still getting their required daily amounts of the key nutrients. For example, It’s fine if they don’t like fruit, as long as they’re eating some veg, and vice versa.
Here are some tried and tested tips for tackling fussy eating (most of these tips come from parents of fussy eaters who’ve come out the other side!):
- Try not to let mealtimes drag on. Children get bored easily and sitting with the same plate of food in front of them for an hour isn’t going to make them want to eat it.
- For toddlers and older children, try not to ask questions like “what would you like to eat tonight” as they’ll only choose they’re preferred dish. Children need variety. Give them a couple of choices perhaps, to help steer them in the right direction.
- A variety of healthy food will help your child grow into a “good” eater. Try and offer something new every day for them to try, along with an old favourite. Particularly in the early months of weaning. If they don’t want to try it, don’t force it. Just give it a go another day. It can take up to 14 times of putting a new food in front of a child before they might be happy to eat it.
- Attempt to eat as a family twice a week at least. Sharing food and making mealtime sociable will encourage your little eater to try new food.
- Involve your child in the buying and cooking of food, or even growing it. If they feel involved in how the food got to the plate on the table, they’re more willing to then eat it.
- Some babies reject textured or lumpy food after starting on purees, so try and introduce slightly textured food as early as possible – some parents prefer to start weaning with mashed food and never puree.
- As soon as possible encourage your little one to feed themselves. Finger foods to start with then learning how to use a spoon on their own. Letting them explore and choose what food to put in their mouth grows their independence and with more control they’ll be more willing to eat the food in front of them.
- Try not to get angry. Be firm but if they see you getting stressed out they might start to use food as a weapon to get at you. If they totally refuse to eat just take the food away and try again at the next meal-time. Most children will eat when they’re hungry and take in what they need to keep going.
- If you have a really fussy eater don’t give them meals that take longer than 10 minutes to make. You’ll just start to feel resentful at the wasted effort and money. And definitely don’t make a whole other meal when the first is refused. Bread and butter is fine if they don’t want to eat a proper plate of food. They’ll soon want something more interesting.
- Children are born with a sweet tooth, and it only gets sweater with 6 months of breast or bottle milk. They are therefore more likely going to prefer fruit to vegetables. If your little one won’t eat veg, try mixing in fruit juice, or sticking with sweeter veg like carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips and other root veg. You can mix these with less sweet veg for variety.
- Get inventive! If your child doesn’t like fruit, mix fruit puree into yogurt. Put grilled cheese on fish, or vegetables. Some food tastes completely different when mixed with other food. Ketchup, used in moderation (it’s full of sugar), is great for helping other food down. Or make pictures out of the food on the plate. (see our 10 fun things to do with food article)
- If your child just isn’t interested in food, little and often might be the best bet. Sometimes holding back on the snacks in the day will encourage your child to eat a full meal, but this doesn’t always work with children with no interest in food. So if possible, offering little bits of healthy food through the day will keep them from losing weight. (If you do have a child who won’t eat and is losing weight, please see your Health Visitor or GP for support and advice)
- Large plates of food can be daunting for a small child. Keep portion sizes small and if they want more once the plate is finished, then they can have seconds.
- Give plenty of praise if your child finishes their plateful or has 2 or 3 mouthfuls of a food they wouldn’t usually like. Perhaps even have a reward chart for dinner times. Although try not to use food as a reward or bribe – particularly pudding.
- Go with your child and your instincts. As long as they’re getting some healthy food, and are developing normally, there’s no need to worry. Most children grow out of fussy eating by the time they’re five and they’ll eat what they need and when they need it.