Whilst food refusal and extreme fussy eating can be very disheartening for parents, it’s important to remember that it’s normal for children to go through stages of refusing to eat certain foods. Yes, it probably would be easier at times to give up but getting on top of fussy eating at an early age can help prevent ongoing nutrition related issues later in life. We’ve compiled 9 simple tips that we have used first hand to assist our clients and their families manage fussy eaters (remember there’s not one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone and if you’d like further support we recommend seeking the advice of an Accredited Practicing Dietitian. Contact us here).
#1. Don’t give up
- Young children often need to see a food up to 10 times before they feel comfortable enough to try it. Try presenting new foods in different ways, by themselves and in combination with other familiar foods.
- When children do not eat the foods offered, it’s important not to give in and provide other foods. Children may see this as being rewarded for being fussy.
- Just because your child is refusing to eat a new food, doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like the food.
- General rule of thumb: Continue to offer healthy family meals and try not offer alternatives.
#2. Positive reinforcement is important
- Encourage good eating behaviours. When children do eat a new food, congratulate them – even if it is just for trying one mouthful.
- Try not to pay much attention to fussy eating behaviour otherwise this behaviour may continue as a means of attention seeking.
- Where possible engage your children in the preparation of meal or snack times as this will increase their interest in the foods. For example, if serving wraps for lunch, serve ‘deconstructed wraps’ and allow the children to select different items they would like on their wraps.
- Talk to the children about different foods and where they come from.
#4. Consistency in mealtimes
- Keep meals and snacks at regular times.
- Set a timeframe for meals (around 20-30 minutes) and snacks (10-20 minutes). If the food is not eaten within this time period, allow the child to leave the table or quietly remove the plate.
#5. Avoid filling up on drinks
- Avoid letting children fill up on drinks especially milk. Allow no more than 2 cups of milk per day. Allow unlimited amounts of water.
#6. Stay Calm
- If your child frequently resists food, mealtimes can be stressful. Avoid force-feeding as it is important to remember that healthy children will not starve themselves.
- Make mealtimes a happy, social occasion. Try not to worry about food on the floor or spilt drinks as your child may sense your worry.
- Pressuring your child to eat their vegetables, may contribute to further aversion to vegetables.
- Meal times are supposed to be a social, enjoyable experience – the less stress the better.
#7. Variety is key
- Explore different ways of presenting, serving and eating such as serving fruit: raw, sliced, mashed or grated!
- Finger food can be easier to manage and can offer more enjoyment and independence.
- If you are worried that your child’s diet may be lacking in a range of nutrients, it is worthwhile speaking to Accredited Practising Dietitian. Contact us here.
#8. Offer one new food at a time
- Keep it simple.
- Allow each new food to become familiar before moving on to the next new food.
#9. You’re the role model
- It’s important to remember that you can’t ask your child to eat a food that you are not willing to eat.
- Where possible, try to sit it down with your child at mealtimes and set the example.
If you are worried that your child’s diet may be lacking in energy or nutrient, please see an Accredited Practising Dietitian for individualised advice. Contact us here.