Some children may be referred to as ‘fussy eaters’, in other words they are very particular about what, or when, they eat.
Some children might occasionally refuse to eat, or only eat in certain environments, whereas others can be limited in their tastes or be reluctant to try new things.
Fussy eating might seem alarming or difficult to deal with as a parent but you can be reassured that it is quite common, particularly in younger children. Children with restricted diets can still eat a balanced and healthy range of foods.
What’s causing fussy eating in my child?
This depends on their age. In toddlers, refusal of foods that they have previously eaten is normal. At this stage, they might not eat a piece of fruit if it has a different appearance than usual or refuse a biscuit if it is broken. Most children grow out of this stage, but for some it can take longer than others.
It’s important to remember that everyone is affected differently by sensory information, such as taste or smell. Something that tastes or smells good to you might not to your child, and vice versa.
Some children might even be hypersensitive (oversensitive) to sensory information, and this might make it more difficult for them to eat certain foods. They could reject food due to its taste, texture, smell or appearance. Some environments might even cause some children with sensory hypersensitivity to lose their appetites, such as eating in a kitchen where there can be an overpowering range of smells.
There could be a medical reason for your child’s fussy eating, such as a sore throat or tooth pain, particularly if there is a sudden onset of food refusal. If you are not sure, it’s often best to speak to a GP. Appetite may also be affected by stress, such as an upcoming maths test or starting a new school.
How to manage fussy eating
- Make sure mealtimes are relaxing and judgement-free environments when your child is trying new food. You can also help to reduce any worries they may be experiencing by letting them know that they are allowed to leave a new food if they do not enjoy it.
- Ensure your child is enjoying mealtimes by talking as a family whilst eating
- Let your child see that you enjoy eating healthy foods, they may be more likely to try foods that they have seen you eating.
- Provide your child with foods from the four main food groups, these are: fruit and vegetables; potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates; dairy or dairy alternatives; and beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins. The NHS has a food scanner app that you can use to find healthy food alternatives.
- Be patient if your child is a slow eater.
- Keep mealtimes to a set time period
- Encourage them to finish what is on their plate if they do not want to, this can make the problem worse.
- Leave your child to go hungry. Ensure that they also have other foods they enjoy when you’re trying to introduce something new.
- Use food as a reward, your child might then associate foods such as sweets or chocolate as good and fruit and vegetables as bad.
- Give your child a portion size that is too large for them. The amount of food a child needs depends on their age, body size and the amount of exercise they are doing, but one portion is roughly the amount that they can fit into the palm of their hand.
Here’s a handy video guide to portion sizes:
ChildFeedingGuide– An app developed by Loughborough University giving parents support and tips on promoting healthy eating.