There’s at least one in every family – a little (or bigger) person who is always hesitant about trying new things.
Feeding fussy children and toddlers can be exhausting, and there’s always that unanswered question: are they getting enough nutrition?
These fussy behaviours can lead to nutrient deficiencies for some children, and have real, long-term consequences. If you suspect that your child may be struggling, seek the help of a qualified nutrition professional. There are many individualised solutions to help your child eat better long term.
With almost one in five children being overweight or obese1 – a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease – setting your children up with a good foundation of eating fresh, whole foods is one of the best ways you can help care for their current and future health.
Here are seven tips for fussy eaters.
1. Remove unhelpful food from the house
If the chicken nuggets, chips or junk food are not in the house, you can easily reduce the amount eaten by your child. If they are in the house, you’ll have a hard time convincing your child to try something different.
2. Eliminate excess snacks from their diet
Children will happily snack and graze all day. This often dulls their appetite for more nutritious meals. Try reducing snacks and watch their meal-time appetites soar.
3. Stop any negative talk about food and bodies
Food is just food. It’s not bad or good; some foods are just more nourishing than others. Encourage positive talk about food and your body. Mentioning ‘fatness’, ‘fattening foods’ and criticising our own or other family member’s bodies does no-one any good and can set up unnecessary anxiety. Frame food talk in a light and positive way.
4. Remove the distractions
Distracted kids are far less likely to eat well than those who have only the meal in front of them to focus on. Turn off the TV, and remove mobile phones, tablets and other devices from the dinner table.
5. Share your healthy eating habits
Role modelling (from parents) is a very strong predictor of long-term healthy eating habits in children. If children see their parents eat and enjoy healthy food, they are much more likely to do so themselves.
6. Avoid food bribes
Food bribes may solve the problem in the short term, but create a larger, long-term problem of raising the status of the bribe food so it becomes ‘special’. These foods are often high in sugar and low in nutrition, and children are likely to just want more of them. Resist the urge to use food bribes.
7. Remove the pressure
Sometimes mealtimes have become such a battleground that no amount of begging, bribes or threats will work. Remove the pressure to eat: encourage the family to sit at the table, place the meal in front of each person, and then leave them to decide whether or not to eat. For some kids, this semblance of control makes them much more motivated to try new things.
The most important points
- Make vegetables normal – put them in front of your children every single day.
- Don’t give up! Children often need to taste things multiple times before they will accept a new food. Persistence is the key.
- Stay consistent. Using food bribes one day and then not the next is going to result in frustration for both you and your child. Set the rules and then stick to them.
- Be prepared. When we’re unorganised, we often resort to convenience food that’s low in nutrition. Write a meal plan and prioritise your weekly grocery shop so you always have healthy food on hand.
- Keep mealtimes fun. Have a picnic on the lounge room floor, or create a make-your-own salad buffet – let the kids build their own salad out of the fresh vegetables that you make available.
- World Health Organization. Obesity and overweight. www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/obesity-and-overweight
About the author
The Healthy Eating Hub
This article was written by an Accredited Practicing Dietitian from The Healthy Eating Hub. The Healthy Eating Hub is a team of university-qualified nutritionists and dietitians who are passionate about helping people develop long term healthy eating habits through offering evidence-based and practical nutrition advice that people can put into practice straight away.