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Baby & Toddler, Food, Motherhood

Dealing with a fussy eater | What to do when your child won’t eat

fussy eater

Children can be notoriously fussy and some are definitely worse than others. I know from experience that having a fussy eater in the house can be tricky; it’s an issue we have to work on daily. If you’re in the same boat, then hopefully this article will help. 

My life with a fussy eater

Being the parent of a fussy eater can be rough. We all want our kids to eat a varied diet and to grow up to be strong and healthy. So when your child refuses to eat, it can be hard to deal with.

My son has never been a great eater and he’s also relatively small for his age. However, he is a happy little chap, he is full of energy and he is in proportion. He also eats a lot like his dad did when he was small and he has a similar build to his father, so I do wonder if genetics play a part.

But as parent, I have, of course, found myself questioning past decisions and wondering what I could have done differently. Whilst you can try and blame yourself, in reality, there’s no rhyme or reason as to why children develop aversions to certain foods. It’s not productive to rake over it either. You have no choice but to move forward.

Regardless of why your child is fussy, there are things you can do to combat it and improve things for the better. I’ve found that this isn’t a linier process and sometimes it can feel like we take one step forward and two back!

Here are the tips that I’ve picked up on our journey, which may help you too:

how to deal with a fussy eater

1) Speak to your health visitor or doctor

If you are worried about you child’s eating habits, or their weight, then you should discuss this issue with a professional. They will be able to give you advice about how to proceed. When I spoke to my health visitor about my son’s eating, she said: “as long as you’re offering him food, you’re doing your bit. You can’t force him to eat.” Those words ring in my ear when I start to feel stressed about my son’s eating. Knowing that I am doing what is in my control does reassure me.

I also discovered, by talking things through with the health visitor, that I don’t always deal with my son’s eating in the most productive way. If my son hasn’t eaten for days and then requests chicken nuggets, I’d cave and give them to him. Getting something in him is better than nothing, I would think. However, I have been told by professionals that this isn’t the best way of tackling the problem, as if your child knows they will get what they want by rejecting food, why would they try something new? There is no parenting handbook, so if you face an issue, it’s important to chat to a professional about it.

That said, I can’t say that I don’t occasionally still cave and order the chicken nuggets. Sometimes, in the moment, it’s hard not to take the ‘easy option’. I refuse to beat myself up when this happens, because I am only human and at the end of the day, I want to see my son eating and sometimes I will do whatever it takes to meet that objective!

2) Hide veggies within sauces

Sometimes picky children don’t like certain textures and that’s what they’re rejecting, not the actual taste of the food. In order to ensure that you get vegetables down them, you could try blending different ones within a sauce. Although this won’t tackle the root cause of your child’s fussy eating, it might help to put your mind at ease a little and help you to get some vitamins and minerals down them.

3) Make the food more fun and appealing

One thing many parents struggle with is making the food look appealing. If it visually looks good, your little person might be encouraged to try things more often. If it is uninviting, then they are less likely to want to eat it. I have heard people that have had great success with making smiley faces, or little scenes on the plate. It might be worth a try. If you’re looking for inspiration, then Pinterest may be a good starting point. 

4) Bargain where you can – in a mindful way

As my son approaches the age of four, I find bargaining with him easier. We explain to our son that if he tries a new food, or finishes his meal, he can have pudding. We usually keep the pudding in question a secret and present him with raspberries, strawberries, or another fruit he loves once he’s done what was asked of him.

If you decide to try this, I do think you have to be careful not to overload the bargaining request. You don’t want to force food down your child, by putting undue pressure on the situation. So try and set a realistic target. We usually just ask our son to try everything on his plate, because quite often, he will then decide he likes at least one of the items he’s tried and he will finish it all.

5) Plant some fruit and veg

Children like to get involved with everything and many of them love spending time in the great outdoors. It’s good to take advantage of this by exploring nature and doing some gardening with them. Planting some fruit trees, or vegetables and watching them grow together will help them to understand where their food comes from. This may also help you to encourage your child to try new things, because they will want to try their own spoils! 

If you’re not green fingered yourself, or you don’t have the space to do this at home, then consider taking your child fruit or vegetable picking instead. There are farms that you can visit to pick your own and then you can return home to cook the food that you’ve picked from the field.

6) Encourage your fussy eater to cook with you

I think a great idea is to try and get your children to cook along with you. My son loves getting involved and helping.

You don’t have to make it complicated; it might be as simple, such as letting them put things in bowls, or measuring out ingredients. Depending on their age, skills and concentration levels, you could also use the time in the kitchen to teach them new things. If they make it, they may also be enticed to eat it. But don’t put any pressure on this activity. They might help you to make it, yet still reject the food. Nothing is guaranteed when it comes to picky little ones!

7) Try to relax during meal times

Parenting a fussy eater can be challenging and keeping calm can be tricky at times. But parents need to try and relax during meal times, because children can sense any nerves and anticipation. I know this is much easier said than done though, especially if your child hasn’t eaten all day. But feeling frustrated with mealtimes, or being over the top with your emotions can hinder your chances of success. So do your best to relax and go with the flow.   

8) Start a rewards chart

A reward chart may not work for everyone, but there has been many a fussy eater that has overcome their food aversions with the help of a rewards chart. I think it may be worth trying one specifically for food. You could give them a sticker every time they try a new food, or finish their meal. My son has a rewards chart for eating at nursery and so far we have seen positive results. 

9) Chat to others that care for your child

If you child is cared for by others, especially during mealtimes, then it’s important to chat to them. Make sure you’re all on the same page when it comes to your child’s eating and ask them to reinforce what you’re doing at home. They will also be able to report back on your child’s eating, so you know what they’re eating when you’re not around.

10) Remember that positive reinforcement is powerful

It is always good to remain positive and give positive encouragement when it is due. Many of us can focus too much on the negative side of things and this can have a detrimental impact on what we are trying to achieve. So when your child does well at mealtime, make sure you tell them how proud you are. 

11) Cut yourself some slack

If you’re reading this article, then you obviously care deeply about your child’s development. You’ve also recognised that your child has an issue that you want to address. Those two factors alone make you a good parent.

Fussy eating will be one issue of many that we face as parents. All we can do is try our best to improve the situation and seek help when needed. But don’t beat yourself up if you live with a fussy eater. In time things will improve and as my health visitor once said: “I’ve never known a child that’s given regular food to starve themselves”.

Good luck with everything. I hope that these tips help you on your journey.

Further inspiration

If you found this article useful, then check out my list of 50 things to do before you’re 5. It’s aimed at pre-school children and includes a free printable.

My friend and fellow blogger, Carol from the Grit & Glamour Club has survived the fussy eating stage. You can read about her family’s journey here.