Alison Peacham, nutritional therapist and health coach, on managing a young child’s fussy eating without tears

Q: My young son has become a fussy eater and I’m concerned about what will happen when he starts school. Do you have any advice for improving his relationship with food and making family mealtimes less stressful?

A: Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most parents to young children can relate to having fussy eaters at home. Children frequently have an issue with the appearance, taste, smell, and texture of food and the way it is presented. Refusing foods and picky eating is all part of a child’s development. It’s a way of exploring their environment and asserting their independence. It will get better. Food preferences evolve as they grow.

Make mealtimes enjoyable, regular, relaxed, and social occasions. Serve your child the same meal the family is eating, but in a portion size your child will eat. Don’t worry about mess made on tables or drinks spilled.

Encourage your child to try tiny tastes of new foods (all the family should join in too) and you could do this away from main meals to avoid pressure of expectation (e.g., as a starter, or a tasting game). Praise your child for every small effort to touch, taste or take a small bite.

If your child is fussing, ignore it as much as you can. Giving attention to fussy eating can encourage your child to keep behaving this way. Don’t pressure them to eat food. Set a time limit for meals as anything that goes on too long isn’t fun. If your child hasn’t eaten the food, take it away – but don’t offer more food until the next planned meal or snack time. 

Make healthy foods fun whenever you have the time. Cut sandwiches into interesting shapes, arrange the food to form a face, or let your child help prepare some of the meal. Be patient and persistent and keep offering foods that have been refused before. It may take ten to 15 goes before they even try a taste of a food they previously refused.

Keep experimenting with different strategies, and most importantly stay positive. Over time, you can help your child develop a healthier relationship with food and make mealtimes less of a battle.

Alison Peacham Nutrition:

Further reading: Can yoga help my young son relax?