Struggling with fussy eaters? You aren’t alone. A 2018 Australia wide study* found that 85% of parents have at least one child that is a fussy eater or has some degree of restricted eating.
The majority of children will experience a fussy eating phase, going from loving a certain food one day to completely refusing to it the next. This can make mealtimes extremely difficult for parents and can make it hard to ensure children are getting all the healthy food they need for optimal growth and development.
While it might seem challenging at the moment, the good news is that children usually get less fussy as they get older. One day your child will most likely eat and enjoy a whole range of different foods. But in the meantime, here are some tips on how to try and help make mealtimes as nutrient-dense and stress-free as possible.
Meal Time Environment
- Use meal times as a time to talk and laugh with the family to help your child associate mealtimes with positive feelings. Keep mealtimes relaxed and calm. Nagging and punishment add stress to the eating experience and this can affect your child’s appetite.
- Stop family members from using devices at the dinner table (phones/laptop). Avoid distractions from the television, iPads, games and toys.
- Allow the child some independence. You are responsible for providing the food (and when) and creating an enjoyable environment; your child is responsible for how much they eat.
- Provide your child with calm activities before mealtimes. Tiredness and overexcitement can decrease appetite.
- Offer small portions; large portions can be overwhelming for children.
- Avoid preparing separate meals. Offer your child the same food that the rest of the family is eating.
- Finger foods may be easier to manage and can offer more enjoyment and independence.
- Avoid drinks (especially milk) or snacks one hour before meals. This will help ensure your child has a good appetite for their meal.
- Ensure food is the appropriate texture for your child. If they are struggling with a particular texture, try other vegetables with similar nutrients. For example, raw or grated vegetables instead of cooked vegetables, mince instead of chewy meat or yoghurt instead of milk.
- Don’t try to introduce children to new foods when they are tired and grumpy. Children are more likely to be fussy in these moods and they are less likely to try and accept new foods.
- Limit milk and dairy foods to two small serves per day. Too much dairy can decrease appetite for other foods.
Setting Time Frames
- Children need a mealtime routine. They feel more secure when they know what to expect - keep mealtimes regular and consistent.
- Set aside 20-30 minutes for meal times and 10-20 minutes for snacks. If food is not eaten within this period allow your child to leave the table or quietly remove their plate.
Introducing New Foods
- Make meals and snacks look appealing and fun. For example, offer a range of different coloured foods arranged in the shape of a face or animals. Younger children may also like having their special plate or cutlery set.
- Try different foods often. Children may need to be offered foods more than 30 times before accepting it. Do not assume that they do not like a particular food after only one or two attempts.
- Give children time to explore and familiarise themselves with new foods. Encourage involvement (food shopping, preparation and cooking) and allow them to serve themselves from a range of healthy options. Things like edamame are great as kids can pop open themselves and it is a bit more exciting for them.
- Make kitchen tasks a fun activity you can enjoy with your child, such as baking and even chopping up vegetables. There are loads of kid-friendly cooking utensils now available.
Do you have any tips to share for getting nutrients into your fussy eater? Share them in the comments below!
Words by Brittany Darling, Nutritionist and Herbalist (BHSc Nutr).
* Study conducted by YouGov Galaxy Research on behalf of Blackmores Australia.