Fussy Eater Strategies


Research shows that about 20% of parents say their 2 to 5 year-olds are fussy eaters. Most will eventually outgrow it, but what can we do in the meantime to encourage them to eat more? These strategies should work well for most picky eaters, regardless of what stage they are in.

Stay calm
Many kids like the attention the dinnertime struggles bring so just smile throughout the meal and ignore the call for attention. Tell them that you’ll be very happy to play, read a book or talk to them after dinner but that the table is a place for manners.

Keep a straight face
When your child decides that they might want to try something new, don’t get overly excited. Making things a big deal can result in a letdown when they don’t like it. Worse still is an interrogation by you as to why they don’t like it.

The more casual you are about them wanting to try something new, the more likely they are to ask.

FussyEaterStrategies_IMGKeep records
Keep notes about new foods your child tries, what he or she liked and how it was prepared. This will make it easier to chart progress and plan meals with similar flavour profiles. When you re-introduce food your child has eaten and they don’t want to eat it, you can casually remind them of the last time they tried it and how they liked it.

It’s not a sprint. It’s a marathon.
It may seem odd to add cheese sauce to broccoli, peas, carrots and green beans but that is often done at feeding clinics. Once you find a taste your child likes, you can use it to introduce new foods. Sauces are a good platform but so is texture. Some children prefer food pureed to a smooth consistency. This may seem strange but if your child prefers a smooth texture this might be the best approach. Eventually, you can puree it chunkier until they can adjust to the new texture.

No special treatment
Fussy eaters often get special foods and special one-on-one time with mum and dad. It’s important that as little emphasis as possible is put on the specially prepared meal; it’s simply the way they prefer to eat. What’s most important is that you don’t make a separate food for them. Just provide something they will eat from the meal you’ve prepared for everyone.

Build on your successes
There are many strategies specialists use to introduce new foods; most of which focus on using a food that the child prefers to get them to try something similar. If you child loves chicken nuggets, then try to make similar items with the nugget shape/texture they love. This could include fish goujons or mozzarella sticks or tempura veggies like broccoli or cauliflower. You can also swap other foods based on texture, so from French fries to sweet potato or carrot fries.

Give it Time
Most children get over being picky eaters by the time they reach school age. In the meantime, take it in your stride. Praise your child for what she’s doing right at mealtimes, and don’t make a big deal about fussy behaviour. The more you talk about it, the more likely she is to keep doing it.

It’s easy to see progress when you keep track of the small wins but it’s just as important to allow time to consolidate gains. Rushing from one food to the next won’t work for most fussy eaters and may cause anxiety. Instead, accept this for what it is and have fun with the process. Small gains over time mean you will eventually be rewarded with a much better eater.