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Fussy Eating

Mealtimes can become a battlefield! We’ve got some ideas on how to parent a fussy eater.

Little girl refusing to each vegetable

Parenting a fussy eater can be testing

Going to a lot of effort to make a healthy meal for your toddler only to have them refuse to eat can be frustrating!

While fussy eating is very common it can often lead to stress, fights and a battle of wills which is upsetting for everybody.

  • Most children go through a fussy eating stage
  • Kids tend to become less fussy as they get older
  • The type of food they like or dislike can change over time
  • It’s ok to feel frustrated – many parents do!

“It didn’t matter what I tried, my child would only eat bananas and rice crackers. It was good to be able to talk to someone and know that what I was experiencing is common and with time things would get better.”

- Sam, mother of a three year old

Eating and normal childhood development

When dealing with fussy eaters, here’s a few things to keep in mind:

Your child will eat when they are hungry

Your child often needs 5-6 small meals each day 

Fussy eating varies – from picking at food to not eating at all

The amount of food your child eats can change at each meal and from day to day 

Eating is a learning experience for your child and it is normal for them to be fussy about eating at times

It is important to seek professional help if your child continues to refuse meals, has low energy levels and is losing weight

Managing fussy eaters

Things to try when responding to fussy eating behaviours:

  • Involve your child in meal preparation
  • Turn the TV (and other devices) off for mealtimes
  • Try limiting their snacks and drinks an hour before meals
  • Be a role model for your child by eating the same meal or foods with them
  • Have a mealtime routine eg. wash hands, sit at table, eat with spoon/fork
  • Don’t fill your child’s plate - keep serving sizes small to start with
  • Continue to offer foods they dislike as their tastes may change
  • Don’t force your child to eat – it could increase their dislike of that food
  • Try to stay calm and if you get frustrated take a short break
  • Don’t offer another meal option if your child refuses to eat something
  • Offer your child new food options alongside foods that your child likes

Impact of fussy eating on parents

Preparing meals to cater for the whole family is challenging at the best of times.

Catering for fussy eaters can lead to extra parenting stress and pressure.

If you start to notice yourself feeling any of the following then it’s probably a good idea to seek support:

  • Feelings of helplessness or loss of confidence in yourself as a parent
  • Mental and physical health impacts eg. can’t concentrate, low energy, withdrawing from others, constantly worrying 
  • Difficulty connecting with your child and building a bond with them
  • Feelings of exhaustion and fatigue
  • Tension in your relationship with your partner or other family members

Support is never far away!

Talking it through and discussing ideas and solutions can really help. Here are some places you can go for more information and support:

If mealtimes continue to be a battle, It's important to get help

We're here for you.

This content was last reviewed 09/05/2018

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