Occupational Therapist Team / Psychology Team
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Children’s eating (or not eating) can cause parents lots of worry and stress. Good nutrition in childhood is important for so many reasons. It supports children growth, overall health and learning. Yet some children are very fussy about what they eat. This may look like only choosing some foods, refusing to try new foods and skipping some food groups all together! I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve come across children and the only thing they will eat reliably is chicken nuggets.
Why are children so fussy?
Children become fussy eaters for a range of reasons. Sometimes it’s due to habits, strong wills and/or sensory difficulties. On this last point, some food textures and tastes can cause distress. While most children grow out of their fussy ways, some will need some help along the way.
What can you do to improve eating?
The following are eleven tips to help improve your child’s eating:
- Model good eating: Children learn so much about the world from their caregivers and modelling eating the type of food you would like them to eat is an excellent start. It is also great if they are surrounded by other children eating different food types.
- Make eating fun: Why not create a fruit face or cut vegetables into cool shapes? By making eating healthy food fun, children are going to be more motivated to try some. There are lots of great websites that you can try for recipes for children. For example: https://www.parents.com/recipes/familyrecipes/
- Have realistic expectations: Don’t expect your child to finish the plate or try new food everyday. Set small but achievable goals such as trying 1 bite of everything on the plate. Also keep meals friendly. It is better to put a small bit of new food alongside a larger amount of food that your child likes.
- Make mealtimes happy & social: Try and make mealtimes an important time for the family to sit down together. Avoid distractions such as having the TV on. Try not to worry about anything that goes wrong during dinner (such as spilled drinks or food). Meal times as positive as possible.
- Praise your child for trying: Its very important to praise and give attention to your child when they try new foods. For some children, a reward chart may be appropriate. However, do not make the reward a different food. This will teach your child that one food is more desirable than another.
- Do not give attention when your child is refusing: It is similarly important not to give too much attention to your child when they are refusing to eat. This can act as a motivator for children to refuse more. Try and ignore the behaviour as best as you can.
- Do not make special meals for your child: Tying in with the previous tip, by making a special meal for your child you are giving them special attention when refusing. This can encourage them to refuse more as they know they will get food they prefer.
- Give your child some say: Refusing food is often a response to wanting greater independence. You can give your child that independence in allowing them to choose their food from a range of healthy options. This way children still feel in control and are more likely to try the healthy option that they choose.
- Choosing new foods with a similar texture: If your child has a sensory aversion to a particular type of food due to it’s texture, try and think of some healthy options which have a different texture. This is particularly relevant if your child has ASD or another developmental disability.
- Offer the new food repeatedly: Your child will most likely have to see the food quite a few times before they will try it. You can also set smaller goals such as touch, smell or lick the food before trying it.
- Involve your child in cooking: You can also involve children in the preparation of a meal (e.g. chopping vegetables) which increases their engagement as well as giving them a chance to feel the food out before eating it.
Still need help? Then feel free to call the Centre on 9274 7062 for more information about how we can help. Our occupational therapy and psychology team can parents with fussy eaters.
Written with help from Ruby Simms-Cumbers (Behaviour Therapist).