Worried about fussy eating?

This is a common concern that I discuss with families. See below for my top tips:

Avoid unpleasant mealtimes.

Bribing, forcing, and pressure to eat can lead to unpleasant and anxious experiences around both familiar and new foods. If a child associates an unpleasant experience with a food or mealtime, this can lead to anxiety and fear of foods, which can make mealtimes even more challenging. Ensure that food experiences are pleasant, relaxed and fun for both you and your child, and if unsuccessful with a food, try again another time. Children can self regulate their portion sizes and recognise their own hunger, and it is important that they learn to do this for themselves, therefore try to avoid pressure to clear their plates.

Avoid food bribery

Have you caught yourself saying “If you eat your vegetables you can have a biscuit”? Although this may seem harmless, it doesn’t support healthy messages about food, by rewarding or punishing your child depending on which foods they eat. It teaches them to tolerate the food rather than learn to enjoy it, and can cause a bigger desire for the bribery foods. Instead encourage all food groups, and ensure that meals provided have a good balance. Instead you could say “have you tried everything on your plate today? Which food was your favourite?”. Avoiding pressure, avoids food fear.

Continue to offer refused foods

Do you remember disliking foods that you now love? Mushrooms, tomatoes, olives? Your children are the same. Just because they refuse a food, this doesn’t mean that they dislike them, or will not be willing to try them again, therefore make sure you continue to offer familiar, new and previously refused foods, but remember to keep your messages and environment positive. We can all change our minds.

Be their superhero (role model)

Children learn from what they see and experience, particularly from their close family, therefore sitting down as a family to eat meals is important. With busy lifestyles and routines this can be a challenge for some families, but it is nevertheless one of the most effective ways of avoiding or managing fussy eating. By taking the time to sit together to eat family meals, e.g. everyone eating the same meal, at the same time, children experience a positive/ relaxed mealtime environment. Building this into a good routine, demonstrating positive food interactions, and having conversations that are not about food, can create a more secure environment where your child is more open to trying foods.

Try not to worry

Children are on a continuous path of learning, and they all learn at their own pace. This applies to their eating as well as vocabulary, numbers, letters etc, therefore perseverance is key. It is rare that fussy eating as a child causes long term problems in the future, but if you are concerned, or feel that their fussy eating is difficult to manage speak to a qualified health professional such as a Dietitian or a Doctor.