Fussy Eater? How to Encourage Adventurous Eating

Rest assured just about all children will go through a fussy eating stage (‘fussiness’ normally peaks at 20 months, and gradually fades away by 5-8 years). However the extent and duration of ‘fussy’ eating varies, and is a common concern amongst parents. Having a ‘fussy’ or ‘picky’ eater can be incredibly frustrating for a number of reasons – it can fuel concerns that your child is not eating enough, not eating the right foods, and it is frustrating & disheartening when time and energy have been put into the preparation of meals.


While a degree of ‘fussiness’ is considered normal as children learn to assert their independence – chronic picky eaters can cause parents much mealtime angst.


Whilst nothing is full proof, here are some tips to consider when encouraging your little one to become an adventurous eater:


NB: If your child is ill, feed them all they can stomach and don’t stress – this is usually bland simple foods such as toast. When your child is feeling better, you can embark on more adventurous eating again.


Your child’s appetite can go from ravenous to non-existent (overnight)


It’s perfectly normal for your child’s appetite to vary from day to day, week to week. I wish adults were more in tune with their satiety and hunger cues! Letting your child regulate their own appetite is an important part of promoting healthy eating habits and preventing obesity. One day your child may be a bottom-less pit, and the next he will pick and eat more like a sparrow, declaring, “I’m full!”, after just one mouthful (heart-breaking when you have prepared a gourmet meal!).


Appetite can be affected by many factors, including a growth spurt, teething, activity levels, mood, and illness. Forcing a child to eat when they are not hungry can also create anxiety around mealtimes and can make dinnertime very stressful for all involved!


Offer new foods with loved foods (‘accepted’ foods)


As a toddler, being presented a new food or whole meal can be overwhelming for them. Try easing these fears by putting a small amount of the new food on the plate with a familiar food your child already likes. Serve up the family meal, for example if it is a chicken curry – place some cheese or sweet potato with it. She will probably reach for the familiar food first, but may feel relaxed enough to try the new food. Try not to get too stressed if your child rejects the new food. Keep offering – she will probably like it eventually, but she may need to see the food on her plate 10-15 times before she even tries a taste!


The power of peers


I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but children like to copy other children. Often parents find their child eats all their lunch at daycare, but often makes a fuss at home. Not only are children encouraged to eat foods that are surrounded by positive emotions, but they are also inspired to eat when they see other children eating food. So invite your child’s besties around for afternoon tea!


Show them how its done


Young children learn the most from people they see the most – their parents. Especially mum. Research shows that mum and dads attitude to food influences the food choices (or nutritional behavior) of their children. From birth, genetic predispositions are modified by experience. If children see their parents eating a variety of foods, making healthy eating choices, and also sitting & eating as a family then they will see these attributes as normal. On the flip side, if they see their parents omitting whole food groups, making unhealthy eating decisions, and are distracted with phones, laptops or TV during mealtimes they will also think this behavior is normal.


Children are like little sponges, so lead by example and promote healthy eating habits for your children. This will set them up for life!


Food shouldn’t become a reward or punishment


Don’t fall into the trap of using food to control behavior. Using food as a reward, such as “eat all your vegetables, and you can have dessert”. Can lead children to associate dessert as a yummy and delicious food, and vegetables as an unpleasant and yucky food. Don’t make a big deal about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods, just stick to setting an example by eating healthy nutritious meals as a family. If he doesn’t want it, move on and try again another day.


Alternatives? What alternatives!?


Children are quick to learn! How long do you think it will take them to hold out for dessert after they realise it comes whether they eat their dinner or not? A common mistake often made by parents is offering their children alternatives at mealtimes. It is incredibly tempting, as parents do not want to send their child to bed hungry, however healthy children will not starve themselves. It won’t take them long to realise if they don’t eat their dinner, there won’t be another option coming along. If your child refuses to eat lunch or dinner, end the meal and try offering a healthy snack later. Or wait to the next mealtime.


Lumps and bumps


Early exposure to a range of different tastes and textures in important in creating a child that is adventurous with their eating. Research suggests children are more likely to be picky eaters if they were not exposed to lumps & bumps, or chewy food during their ‘sensitive’ period. This period is before the age of 10 months, and is especially important for the introduction, familiarization and acceptance of fruit and vegetables.