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Strategies for a fussy eater

By Orlaith Cusack

Is your child a fussy eater? Children being labelled as fussy eaters is incredibly common. As a parent it can be incredibly stress inducing when you are concerned that your child is not getting the amount of food or variation in nutrition that they need. Below are some evidence-based strategies to support your child at mealtimes.

Pick one meal a day that you are going to focus on implementing these strategies. Family life can be hectic. By picking one time where you focus on these strategies will make it more achievable for you and your child!

Add structure!

Let your child know in advance as to when the mealtime is going to happen. This gives your child time to transition away from any preferred activity such as the TV or iPad.

Encourage washing hands before the mealtime as it breaks up the time between their activity and mealtime. It also can be a calming sensory activity for some children.

Give your child a role in helping to set the table.

Encourage your child to help clean up to signal the end of the mealtime.

Family mealtimes!

Family style serving of food can be a great way of exposing your child to new foods, particularly if there are separate food items on offer. When food is being served to them, It can give them an opportunity to become exposed to the sensory properties of the food- learning what the food looks, like or smells like.

Offer all foods to your child to put on their plate, if they don’t want it- you can place it on another plate that is close by.

Family style serving allow for social role modelling. If your child sees you eating a food that is seen as a ‘less desirable’ – this can decrease any fear associated with this food.

Keep calm and comment!

Comment on any interaction your child demonstrates with foods. It can sometimes to help to comment on the sensory properties of foods.

“You touched the broccoli with your fork, can you pick it up?”

“Those potatoes look fluffy like a cloud”

“These carrots are extra crunchy”

Try to keep calm and keep your language neutral. Children are very clever and will pick up on any elevated emotions that you display. The aim is to keep mealtimes feeling calm and safe for your child so that they can build their confidence to try some new foods.

Some signs that your child may need some extra support in relation to feeding include:

  • Ongoing issues in relation to weight gain OR weight loss.
  • Ongoing issues in relation to choking, gagging, coughing during meals.
  • Ongoing problems with vomiting or reflux.
  • Ongoing respiratory issues.
  • Difficulty to transition to baby food purees, table food solids or transition to a cup.
  • Avoidance of all foods in a specific texture or food group
  • Ongoing and significant parental stress around your child’s eating

Remember you are not alone if you are working with a fussy eater. If you think you require some extra support in relation to feeding and you think you might need to meet a feeding therapist, reaching out to you child’s GP or paediatrician can be a good place to start.

About the author

Orlaith is a senior speech pathologist at KEO Care. Orlaith completed her speech pathology degree in Ireland and has worked with individuals with communication and swallowing needs across the lifespan both in Ireland and Australia. As a speech pathologist, Orlaith’s interests include complex communication needs, paediatric feeding disorder and supporting participants and their families in the early childhood space.