Feeding the fussy family member!

Health and Fitness

There’s at least one in every family. A little (or bigger) person who is always hesitant about trying new things! 

They’re usually the ones who’ll happily eat the same jam sandwich every day for lunch. And when you’re out for dinner? Chicken nuggets and chips is the go to! What about when you cook a new recipe or pop some vegetables on their plate? Does world war three break out?

Feeding fussy kids and toddlers can be exhausting and there’s always that unanswered question of: Are they getting enough nutrition? For some kids, their fussy behaviours can actually lead to nutrient deficiencies and these have real, long-term consequences. If you suspect that your child may be struggling, then please seek out a university-qualified nutrition professional for some help. There are lots of individualised solutions to help your child eat better long term.

So… what are you supposed to do about the fussy people in your family? Here are my top tips for fussy eaters!
  1. 1. Remove unhelpful food from the house.
    If the chicken nuggets, jam, custard, chips or biscuits are not in the house than you can easily reduce the amount that your child eats them. If they are in the house, you’ll have a hard time convincing your child to try something different.
  3. 2. Remove excess snacks from their diet.
    Kids will happily snack and graze all day. This often dulls their appetite for more nutritious meals. Reduce snacks and watch their meal time appetites soar!
  5. 3. Remove the 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 and other family member’s bodies does no-one any good and can set up unnecessary anxiety. Keep it light and positive!
  7. 4. Remove the distractions.
    Turn off the TV. And remove mobile phones, tablets and other devices from the dinner table etc. Distracted kids are far less likely to eat well, than those who just have the meal in front of them to focus on.
  9. 5. Remove your poor eating habits.
    ole modelling (from parents) is a very strong predictor of long term healthy eating habits in children. The research shows that children must see their parents EAT and ENJOY healthy food. Note the word: ENJOY!
  11. 6. Remove the food bribes.
    This may solve the problem in the short term, but creates 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 will just want to eat them more and more. Resist the urge to use food bribes and focus on the other tips above.
  13. 7. Remove the pressure.
    ometimes meal times have become such a battle ground that no matter how much you beg, bribe or threaten, it’s just not getting better. Remove the pressure to eat. Encourage the family to sit up to the table, place the meal in front of them and then leave it up to them to eat it or not. For some kids, if they think it’s their idea, they’re much more motivated to try new things! And if you put this tip into action along with the other ones before it, you’ll have even better success!
The most important points that I want to emphasise when it comes to feeding kids: 
  • Make vegetables NORMAL – put them in front of them every single day.
  • Don’t give up! The CSIRO suggests that children need to taste things up to 20 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 vegetables. Write a meal plan and prioritise your weekly grocery shop so you always have healthy food on hand!


Lastly, here are some fun ways to make meal times a fun and enjoyable time together as a family:
  • Light candles – it really sets the mood and the kids will love it! Obviously, be careful with younger children. Fire and two year olds are not a good mix! 
  • Have a picnic on the lounge room floor! This is just fun!
  • Create a make your own salad buffet – let the kids build their own salad out of the fresh vegetables that you make available.


Heart tip: Heart disease often runs in families. Setting your kids up with a good foundation of eating fresh, whole foods is one of the best ways that you can reduce your kid’s risk of disease and keep their heart ‘beating fit’ well into old age!

Kate Freeman is HRI's resident nutritionist. She is a Registered Nutritionist from Canberra, Australia and the creator and managing director of Canberra's largest private nutrition practice in Canberra, The Healthy Eating Hub. Kate Freeman consults, writes, presents and mentors in the field of nutrition and has over 10 years of experience in the industry. 


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