Helpful Tips for Fussy Eaters

Written by Ariana Crisafulli


Posted on February 09 2021


I remember mealtimes when my kids were young. The two of them were polar opposites; one of them had a beautiful appetite, but preferred pasta and tomato sauce over baby food. But the other one made mealtime feel like a business negotiation. "Okay, will you take five peas? No? How about three?" She was a tough bargainer. It took some time to realize that this method of negotiation would never work, and only caused stress for the both of us. 

I think for us parents, the stress mostly comes in the form of worry about our kids' diets and whether or not they're eating enough. We all want our kids to be healthy and happy, so it can be frustrating and even nerve wracking if they are refusing to eat, or if they reject anything that might be - gasp! - good for them.

Not to worry, we've got a few tips that we hope will help turn mealtimes into a somewhat enjoyable process rather than a cause for stress.

What makes a fussy eater?

There are a couple things it could be. Firstly, it's important to keep in mind that while infants triple their weight in the first year, the average toddler only gains four to five pounds between their first and second birthdays. Naturally, their appetite drops during this period.

The second thing to remember is that children start trying to assert their independence early on. If you get a toddler who's constantly saying 'no' to food, they might just be trying to find their place in the world. 

What to do about a fussy eater

Don't force it

If the issue is that your child is trying to assert their burgeoning independence, forcing them to eat will only make matters worse. Give them small portions and let them decide what they want to eat and whether or not they want to ask for more. One of the worst things you can do is to demand that they clean their plate. Not only will this create stress for everyone involved, it might teach them to ignore their inner hunger and fullness cues. If your child is healthy and is gaining weight normally, it's okay to let them acknowledge if they're hungry or not at mealtimes.

Create a routine

Create and stick to a set routine for meals and snacks. This allows flexibility within a predictable schedule. Your child will come to know when it's time to eat, but if they're not hungry during mealtime, there's still the opportunity to eat something nutritious during snacktime. A mealtime schedule also promotes feelings of stability, and eating together as a family encourages bonding and closeness.

Avoid distractions

And while you're having this family mealtime, it's not a bad idea to turn off the television and keep the devices far from reach. Screens may distract your child from eating, and commercials showing sugary foods might encourage bad eating habits. Use this time to set the day aside and be with the ones you love while promoting healthy eating habits for your children.

Set a good example

Children will learn how to behave by watching you. If you are taking good care of yourself with healthy foods and a regular eating schedule, your child is more likely to do the same in the future.

Make it child-friendly

Encourage them to join in the process. Take them along to the grocery store and have them help pick out their favorite fruits and veggies. At home, serve veggies with their favorite healthy dipping sauces, or cut foods into fun shapes. Let the little ones assist with simple cooking tasks like stirring batter or setting the table. You can also make their favorite foods healthier by adding more fruits and veggies. For example, put shredded zucchini in the pasta sauce or fruit in the oatmeal. 

Avoid customizing mealtimes

Cooking a separate meal for your child if they don't like the first one only encourages fussy eating. If it's a food that is new to them, give them time to adjust to it. Otherwise, encourage them to stay at the table until the meal is over, even if they don't want to eat. 

Respect their preferences

That being said, it's also important to respect your child's preferences. Having a harmonious, healthy mealtime is not just about making sure your child is eating the right things, it's also about respecting their preferences within the boundaries of what is healthy, and coming to an agreement about what everyone would like to eat. Using a framework of what foods are healthy and acceptable, let your child choose their favorite items. This not only promotes healthy eating, it also teaches children that their preferences matter and that they are capable of making good decisions for themselves.

If you have any questions or tips of your own, leave them in the comments section below! Otherwise, bon appetit!