Why Is My Child A Fussy Eater?

Child eating

As a parent of a very faddy child I know just how frustrating it can be and how unhelpful some of the fussy eating myths are. Statements such as:

  • Fussy parents produce fussy children
  • Fussy children are made that way by indulgent parents
  • Fussy kids just need more discipline
  • Fussy children are spoilt

These judging comments made by people who have been lucky enough not to have suffered with faddy eaters. I can blow most of those myths away as our daughter, Beth is a wonderful eater and always has been. Alex, the fussy one, was not brought up any differently.

I breastfed him until he was 6 months old and then weaned him with a variety of foods as I’ve always felt that if you give them variety they will grow up with a love of different flavours. However he’s always been quite picky in what he will eat and as he’s got older, it seems to have got worse.

We are quite strict in our parenting and the children always eat what we are eating, we don’t make any special provisions for them. However neither will I force either of them to eat something they don’t like. I don’t see the point in leaving them sitting at the table for hours staring at a plate of cold cabbage as my mother used to do to us, nor will I turn it into a battle of wills by force-feeding or denying him afters (which is usually only a small yoghurt pot or fromage frais).

All the experts that have ever lectured parents on TV, in magazines or online have all said the same thing, never make a fuss about it because most of the time they are doing it for attention. When you are all sat eating together, that’s the time when the kids have your full attention and what better way of getting noticed than by not eating your food? They say to simply ignore it and the phase will pass.

Well Alex’s phase has been going on for 3 years now with no sign of stopping. His lunchbox always seems to come back full and I might as well not give him anything at teatime. Yet there are a couple of tricks that do seem to have worked which I’ll share with you.

  • Try buying frozen spinach pieces and putting them in dishes like curry, pasta and even in pies. Once defrosted the spinach is very hard to spot, tasteless and you know at least that they are eating some good veg.
  • Try raw veg. Alex doesn’t like cooked carrots but he will eat them if I put them in as raw sticks in his lunchbox.
  • If you have one rule at the table make sure that it’s a rule that everyone must try everything on their plate at least once. You are not insisting that they eat it all, just that they try it and if they don’t like it then fair enough, you just have to watch it being thrown away.
  • Bribery. This is a good trick that works when I can be bothered to do it. Tell them that if they make a good attempt at eating their tea (or lunch) every day, then perhaps on a Friday (or at the weekend) they can choose their favourite meal and can help you to cook it. You can get them really involved in this by encouraging them to write menus, dress up as chefs and set the table just like in a restaurant. Alex gets very excited by this and does actually make more of an effort when I introduce it.
  • Never ever give in and make them something different, this just sets a precedent and they’ll expect the same thing every mealtime. The only compromise I will make is to give him boiled potatoes with a little bit of butter on instead of mash. Small compromises like this are fine, but it’s when you make them baked beans on toast whilst you all tuck into Sunday roast that you realise it’s gone too far.
  • If they don’t eat they don’t eat. Never offer them anything else after tea like a piece of toast. Alex has learnt that if he doesn’t eat his tea, whilst I will allow him his yoghurt, he won’t get anything else. It hasn’t made much of a difference but at least he isn’t refusing his tea because he knows that there is always the option of toast later on.
  • Praise everything they do at the table. I found that I was always very negative at the table, saying things like “you never eat your food!” and there was little or no praise at all. Now I praise everything from him using his knife and fork, to asking nicely for the ketchup. He likes this positive attention and I’ve noticed he tries harder now to get the right kind of attention, especially if you deliberately ignore minor misbehaviour like burping.

There is nothing you have done to make your child a fussy eater, sometimes that’s just the way they are. As with everything connected with parenting, we just have to accept it and do our best to guide them through it. Alex might grow up to be a brilliant foodie or he might be one of these people with traditional tastes who always order the same thing at the restaurant.

The thing is, we as parents shouldn’t beat ourselves up over it. Being fussy children is all a part of their childhood personalities and as long as they are growing and have no health issues then we needn’t be too worried. Obviously if your child has a serious problem with food then they do need expert help, but being faddy over food is a very common problem in children and there isn’t any one magical solution.

My fussy eaters recipes for lunchboxes might help as far as their lunch goes, but even this is hit and miss as I know that Alex will love a certain lunch one week and then refuse it the next. That’s just the way it goes and all we can do is keep trying and make mental notes of how much they owe us for wasted food once they’ve left home and secured good jobs! I reckon Alex owes us at least 50 expensive meals in top class restaurants 😉

See Also
Eatwell Guide
Eating Well for All Ages
Child eating a bowl of cereal
Getting Kids to Try New Foods