Managing fussy eating
Many young children go through phases of refusing to try new foods or refusing foods they used to enjoy. This can be worrying or frustrating for parents and carers.
Most children grow out of fussy eating and learn to eat a variety of foods
The following tips can help to manage this phrase
Provide plenty of opportunities for your child to see, smell and touch a variety of foods outside of mealtimes. This can be through food play such as messy play, cooking activities, crafts using real foods, books and songs.
Some children are more sensitive to different textures, encouraging sensory play can help them feel comfortable trying new textures. Playdough, water and sand play and messy play are good activities to try. Start with dry food textures such as rice and gradually move to wetter textures such as dough.
Let children be involved in choosing what they want to eat but limit their choices so they don’t feel overwhelmed. Instead of asking what do you want for a snack? Ask would you like an apple or banana for snack today?
From a young age children can be involved in mealtimes from being given finger foods so they can feed themselves to helping to spread toppings, pour their own drink and slice soft fruit.
It is common for children to refuse a new food, keep offering that same food at another mealtime. It can take 15-20 times for a child to accept a new food.
Children are more likely to try a new food if it is offered with foods they already enjoy. They learn by copying others so try to eat meals together and let them see you eat a variety of foods.
Try to remain calm at mealtimes and not show you are upset or worried by your child not eating.
Young children don’t eat well if they are very hungry or tired, avoid this by setting a daily routine of 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.
Set up an area for eating ideally with a table you can all sit at.
Turn off any distractions e.g. TV or iPad and put away toys.
Eat together as much as possible. Talk about foods you enjoy and avoid making negative comments about foods. Mealtimes can be a great time to help your child’s language skills.
Learning to eat is a new skill that takes time often resulting in spills and mess, handle accidents in a calm way. Avoid wiping your child’s hands and face during the meal, wait to the end of the meal to clean them up.
Large portions can be overwhelming. Start with small portions, if finished praise your child and offer more.
Keep mealtimes to 20-30 minutes, children are unlikely to eat more after this time.
Avoid making a completely different meal if your child refuses a meal. Instead try offering 2 courses, a main meal and a nutritious pudding such as fruit and yoghurt, to give your child another opportunity to eat.
Avoid giving snacks or drinks too close to mealtimes – this can fill up your child before meals.
Try to keep mealtimes calm and take away any uneaten food without comment. Try to ignore fussing at mealtimes, giving lots of attention when your child is not eating may encourage them to continue behaving this way.
Keep offering a food even if your child has previously rejected that same food – it can take 15-20 times for a child to try a new food.
Give your child praise and attention when eating well or trying new foods.
Try foods in different forms, for example, a child may not eat cooked carrot but may eat raw carrot.
Children are more likely to try new foods if they are offered with foods they already like. Try putting new foods in a separate bowl or plate.
Never force a child to eat. Using pressure, force or coercion to get your child to eat often has the opposite effect.
Let your child decide how much to eat, young children are really good at regulating their own appetite. Their appetites can vary day to day so they may eat more on some days than others. If your child is showing signs they have had enough, take the food away without any comment.
There are lots of ways to reward or comfort your child without using food.
- Praise, claps and a simple well done.
- Use hugs and kisses to comfort your child.
- A favourite game or activity.
- Trip to the park.
Happy mealtimes animation
The NYLO team show us how they get ready and enjoy mealtimes together.