Tips for Parents of Fussy or Picky Eaters

Encouraging your child to eat healthily is one challenge, but sometimes getting them to eat anything at all is another! With new textures, colours, shapes, smells and tastes, children can quickly become fussy or picky eaters.

Part of Their Development

It’s often considered part of development, as they grow an understanding of what they do and don’t like, as well as the fact that their taste buds change as they age.

It’s quite normal for a child to like a certain food one day, then despise it the next, or go from eating everything in the cupboards to nothing at all.

You’re Not Alone

It’s important to remember, despite you feeling alone in your mealtime struggle, that you’re not, and many parents and children face the same issue.

Although dealing with a picky eater can be time-consuming, sometimes expensive and very often a test of your patience, there are several techniques which can be used to ease your frustrations.

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Retry Foods

As children physically grow, change and develop, their taste buds do too! As previously mentioned, it’s possible for them to like something one day, and hate it the next. Their taste buds are more sensitive than adults, and they will often experience certain food groups with a greater intensity than us.

Regularly Expose Them to Food They’ve Not Tried Before

Knowing this, it’s important to continue to revisit and retry foods that they’ve previously not liked; it’s probable that their preferences may have changed. Regularly expose them to foods they have tried before, as well as those that are new to them.

Banish the Bribes

It’s an age-old technique, but tempting your child to eat certain foods, with the reward of something else, can be detrimental to their understanding of mealtimes and what’s expected of them.

When bribes are used, children can begin to expect a reward for something as simple as eating their greens. When this action is repeated, they may refuse to eat certain food groups until the reward is in sight.

As an example, actions such as ‘if you eat all of your peas then you can have a bar of chocolate’ or ‘if you finish the potatoes on your plate, then we can go to the park’ can give the impression that healthy food is a chore to be completed before they can enjoy a reward.

Chocolate cupcakes

Use Verbal Praise

Instead, verbal praise can be an effective way to show your appreciation for them trying or eating food that they weren’t keen on. If a reward is the only option for you, try to stick to those that are not food-related.

Don’t Fuss

After finishing work and heading home to spend valuable time cooking a delicious and nutritious meal for your family, it can be a challenge to remain calm and avoid fussing when your child refuses to eat, or even try what you’ve made for them. On bad days, it can be difficult to keep a level head in this situation but avoiding arguments about food is important.

If you give picky eaters lots of attention, it can, in some cases, encourage them to repeat the behaviour.

Don’t Force Them

Pressing or forcing your child to eat certain foods can, in some circumstances, cause them to eat less. If they refuse, the best thing you can do is simply take the food away with a neutral reaction.

Meals Should Be Enjoyable and Not Daunting

Avoid making your child finish everything on their plate or eat more than they are comfortable with. This can make mealtimes a very daunting prospect if, during every meal, they are expected to eat when they are possibly uncomfortable or not enjoying the food.

Be a Role Model

Children are renowned for copying their parents and, one of the best things you can do with food, is to lead by example.

Make healthy eating in your home a normal and daily occurrence. Choose healthier snacks and meals for yourself, so that they regularly observe you tucking into something nutritious.

Replicating Your Eating Habits

Your child will gain an understanding of food and their own preferences by replicating your eating habits.

A boy holding a bowl of blueberries.

Portion Sizes

When catering for fussy eaters, it can be helpful to begin with a small portion and encourage your child to ask for more if they are still feeling hungry. This technique also allows them to develop an understanding of when they are still hungry or are full.

Use Child-sized Plates

Try to serve their meals on smaller, child-sized plates as this can give you a better idea of the amount of food you’re serving to what is a much smaller person, with a smaller stomach!

A girl eating a bowl of cereal.

Pairing and Food Bridges

As you introduce new foods, try to do so alongside others that you know they already enjoy. By doing this, you provide a familiar flavour which they can fill up on, as well as something new and interesting to sample!

Food Bridge

A ‘food bridge’ is a term used by nutritionists and defines foods that share a similarity, whether that’s in texture, colour or flavour. Introducing new foods, in-line with foods that they already appreciate, can be a quick way to increase what they like. For example, if all your child will eat is roasted butternut squash, try adding some sweet potato, carrot or pumpkin as they share similarities in texture and appearance.

Carrots on a chopping board.

Involve Them in Food Choices

Children are sponges for knowledge and the more information you can offer them around the food they’re eating, the more likely they are to be enthused to help make decisions and choices around what they eat.

A Helping Hand

Whether you’re writing a shopping list or planning your meals for the following week, encourage them to make suggestions, help you cook or pick out a recipe.

A child helping to cook.

What are your go-to techniques for coping with your picky eater at mealtimes? We’d love to hear about what works for you, get in touch with us via our social media channels!

Here at St Peter’s, a ​pre-prep in Devon​, nourishment of our pupils, both for their minds and bellies, is a priority!

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle through food choices and activity are encouraged, and at the school, there are set meal and snack times during the day, helping to keep energy levels high and stomachs full!

Find out more about how children are ‘refuelled’ at St Peter’s in our ​Food, Glorious Food​ blog!

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