Respect and Trust the Fussy Eater

October 15, 2009
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Having a fussy eater in the family can be the cause of much anxiety and tension. Young children, by nature, tend to be picky about their food. It seems that they love to turn their noses up at the meals over which we labour all day to serve them.

According to the UK’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, this is part of the normal behaviour of pre-school children. About 30 per cent of under-fives regularly refuse their food or choose to eat selectively.

As long as your children are thriving, this should not cause too much concern. Still, parents constantly search for clever ways to sneak bits of vegetables and fish into their toddlers’ meals so that they will not be discovered and, better yet, will not be removed and thrown on the table.

Mealtimes can easily escalate into a big clash of wills between parent and child, if neither side concedes; and it is a battle that parents appear destined to lose. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s how:

Give children the freedom to make their own food choices. When presented with choices, children will invariably choose the foods that are good for them, picking items that will provide a “balanced” meal, perhaps not within one sitting but certainly over the course of a day.

Make available a variety of healthy foods throughout the day.
Children get their nutrition not only from their meals but also from snacks in-between. Substitute packaged crisps and cookies with cut fruits, dried fruits, celery and carrot sticks; soda with smoothies; and canned foods with oats, homemade bread, boiled pasta and other fresh foods.

Allow kids the pleasure of experimenting with different textures and tastes; and respect their likes and dislikes. Children are often picky because they need to assert their independence, they want to be able to choose for themselves what, when and how much they would like to eat.

Allow children, even the younger ones, to feed themselves. This is a good way to give children ownership of their eating. Much of the food may end up on the table or floor but children will start associating eating with fun and happy.

Don’t force feed. Also, don’t insist that children sit at the table after everyone else has left. If your child has had enough, trust her word. Children are in sync with their bodies and will eat until they are full.

Relax and trust that our children will eat what they need. This must be the hardest thing for parents to do but this is the key that will dissolve all tension and send the signal to our children that there no need to refuse food just to prove a point.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Start children off early on a wide range of natural foods. The tastes that children develop for certain foods in childhood tend to stay with them well into adulthood.  Stick to fresh foods after weaning—use bottled  foods only in emergencies. Starting them early in life on healthy alternatives will ensure that they grow up preferring healthy foods.

Get children involved with food shopping and preparation.
Young children love to have their hands in everything—literally, as well as figuratively! Let them help in preparing dinner and chances are they will feel proud and happy to eat it.

Keep the menu simple. Children generally like simple foods. There is no point cooking up a gourmet meal with 100 secret herbs and spices when the kids are more than happy (read: will eat as opposed to will not eat) with a simple sandwich or rice and chicken soup.

Breast-feeding mums: include in your diet lots of fresh foods, especially those that children often detest such as veggies.
The taste of breast milk changes according to what mum has had for her last meal so this is an ideal opportunity to present your baby with an adventurous variety of tastes.

Children are great imitators and the key to getting kids to eat healthily is to eat healthily ourselves.

This post is part of the 2010 API Principles of Parenting blog carnival, a series of monthly parenting blog carnivals, hosted by API Speaks. Learn more about attachment parenting by visiting the API website.

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4 Responses to Respect and Trust the Fussy Eater

  1. Sheryl on March 19, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Great post! When I started my now 2 yr old son on solids at around 6 months I always gave him fresh food that I made myself. I truly believe that this helped develop his palate and that the exposure to so many wonderful flavors turned him into the great eater that he is today.

  2. Eileen Lian on March 29, 2010 at 9:14 am

    Thanks for your comment, Sheryl. I totally agree with you. Our early foods determine the kinds of tastes we develop. Breastfeeding and fresh foods are the way to go.

  3. Lauren @ Hobo Mama on April 10, 2010 at 5:25 am

    This is a great post and sure to decrease some parental anxiety! I love the idea to get children involved in the shopping and food preparation so they’ll take ownership. I know my 2-year-old loves making his own choices and contributions.

  4. Eileen Lian on April 10, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Lauren, thanks for stopping by. At that age, my children were into really simple foods. What about your child?

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