Feeding Families

Tips for feeding fussy eaters: Clever ways to pack extra nutrients into food

Most parents are concerned about their child’s eating habits with many little ones described as ‘fussy eaters’ at some stage. However, ‘fussy eating’ is considered part of normal development for most children and a way for them to explore their environment and assert their independence. Our response to this normal behaviour can either make it better or worse.

(See also: Is my child a healthy weight?  ‘How do I know if my child is eating too much or not enough?’  ‘How to make your child a good eater?).

Here are some of our top tips for feeding 'fussy eaters' to maximise their nutrition and create calmer mealtimes.

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Be a good role model:

Set a good example by eating a variety of foods yourself. If you are eating a wide range of healthy foods, you are setting a powerful example for your children.

Set a routine:

Children like routines. Get into the habit of providing 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. Allocate time to eat (that is, meal and snack times) as well as time to get hungry (1½ - 2 hours between eating). Avoid filling them up on juice, milk or snacks before mealtimes.

Offer your little people, little serves:

Provide a small serve and provide seconds if they are still hungry. Many parents overestimate the amount of food young children need. Smaller serves are also less daunting for children who may be reluctant to eat.

Go for water:

Offer your child water as the main drink. Try to limit milk intake to less than 600mL per day. Keep juice, cordial and soft drinks for special occasions.

Stay calm!

You decide what and when food is offered to your child, then let your child decide if and how much they will eat. If your child refuses food, stay calm. Let your child sit quietly at the table for a few minutes, then remove the food without fuss or comment. Do not offer an alternative until the next meal or snack.

Be persistent:

A child may need to see, touch or play with food many times before they will try it. Don’t give up. Keep offering foods as it will help your child take steps towards trying it.

Avoid distractions:

Distracted children will more likely refuse to sit down and eat at mealtimes. Turn off screens during mealtimes and try to plan play time before meals rather than after. They’ll be less likely to want to race from the table.

Be child friendly:

Try to serve foods that are easy to eat. Finger foods may be used to encourage eating when the child is still learning to use utensils.

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Only buy what you want them to eat:

Try not to keep large amounts of junk food in the house. If ‘problem foods’ are not in the house, children can’t nag you for them! Shopping alone can also help avoid the pester power. You won’t be persuaded to buy extra treats if you’re on your own.

Get them involved!

Involvement in food preparation, cooking, serving, growing vegetables/herbs and even composting leftovers helps develop positive attitudes to food. Young children can assist with tearing lettuce leaves for a salad, peeling a banana or stirring. Older children can help with preparing meals – grating, chopping, mixing and serving meals – under your supervision.

Give them a choice of 2:

Allow your child to make decisions that don’t impact on the quality of the food provided. Rather than asking ‘what would you like for lunch?’ try ‘do you want triangle or square sandwiches?’ or ‘do you want an apple or some grapes?’. Asking your child to choose between 2 options gives them a sense of control while still allowing you to be in charge of the types of food that are offered.

Bribery doesn’t work:

Using treats to coax your child to eat healthy foods just reinforces the idea that the healthy food is undesirable, and the treat is highly desirable.

Relax table manners:

Children and mess at mealtimes go hand in hand. Try to keep these minor disasters from making mealtimes tense or unhappy.

Packing nutrients into meals and snacks

Offering foods in different ways and at different times will increase exposure to foods that children may not usually eat. ‘Hiding’ food in meals, such as grating vegetables into meals is a short-term solution, because, ultimately, we want them to expand the menu and eat a variety of whole foods. Two food groups that children are less willing to eat are vegetables and meat. Here are some ideas for including them more often.

What if my child won’t eat vegetables? What if my child won’t eat meat?
Offer raw vegetables with dip or cream cheese. Serve minced meat or finely sliced meat with gravy or a sauce.
Add grated or diced vegetables to meals such as fried rice, pasta sauces, rissoles or casseroles. Serve meat in stir‐fries, fried rice, casseroles or pasta sauces.
Present vegetables in different ways, such as grated, boiled, baked, raw or even frozen (peas, corn). Try dairy products, eggs, peanut butter and baked beans as an alternative source of protein.
Add vegetables as pizza toppings. Add meat to pizza toppings.

When should you seek professional help for your child’s eating?

If you remain concerned about your child’s eating following initial advice from your general healthcare provider, seek out specialty services to explore the underlying cause and most effective treatment. A small number of extreme 'fussy eaters' may have an underlying issue, with a sensory or mechanical cause, and require further support.

Would you like more support?

Click Get Support to provide your details to our Care Support Team who will match your needs with the appropriate level of support.

Further support

If you are concerned about your child’s food intake, eating behaviours, growth or nutrition-related health, contact a GP, paediatrician or Accredited Practising Dietitian who can provide a comprehensive assessment that considers your child’s medical history, eating patterns including mealtime experiences, physical activity and genetic factors.
Find an Accredited Practising Dietitian with experience in infant and child growth - https://dietitiansaustralia.org.au/find-an-apd/

 

Are you concerned about your own health?

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