6 Ways To Handle A Fussy Eater
From milk-obsessed infants to pizza-loving toddlers, knowing how to provide your children with nutritious foods that they also enjoy eating can be a tricky task! As a mother to a little girl who always keeps me guessing in the food department, I’m happy to share my tips for navigating how to handle picky eaters in a positive and stress-free way.
Most kids will go through a picky phase (or two, or twelve) as they begin to learn about the world of food and their personal culinary preferences.
From how food tastes to its different smells and textures, your former try-anything-tot may suddenly decide that they will only eat chicken nuggets for every meal…for 47 days straight. This can make you feel defeated and worry about whether your little one is getting the nutrition required to fuel their growing body.
To help you transform the mealtime battleground into an enjoyable bonding experience for the whole family, we’ll go over:
- What makes a fussy eater?
- Tips for encouraging fussy eaters
- A PDF download with habits to encourage healthy eaters
- Non-toxic dinnerware that makes mealtime extra fun
- When you should talk to a professional about your fussy eater
Why is my kid so picky?
The short answer is: there is no short answer! The list of possible reasons that your child is fussy at mealtimes is lengthy and difficult to pinpoint. Pickiness can stem from parental eating habits to control at mealtimes to your little one’s personality to your tot just learning to navigate the world of food and their personal preferences. Some kids can also have sensory and textural issues when it comes to new foods. If you are concerned and think this might be your child, we recommend getting advice from your pediatrician.
Studies have shown that parental anxiety or attempting to enforce strict rules around meals may be counterproductive, and can make fussiness even worse. Kids feed off of their parents’ energy, and sometimes just sitting back, letting go of the power struggle, and being in the moment at mealtimes can make a huge difference!
Tips for encouraging fussy eaters
#1 Eat together as a family
Babies and toddlers love copying their parents!
Involving your little one in the family’s mealtimes instead of serving them their dinner separately can make them feel included and in turn, encourage them to eat more. This small adjustment to your daily routine will help develop important fine motor skills like drinking from an open cup and using utensils! Plus, who doesn’t love a big family meal where everyone shares about their day?
#2 Try dishing out smaller portions
Dishing up a big plate of an unfamiliar or disliked food can be overwhelming and intimidating for a little person who is learning to navigate the world of self-feeding. Offering something like 2 pieces of pasta, 3 peas, and a square of toast, and then refilling as needed will encourage your little one to eat more. As an added bonus, this will cut back on food waste (although your family dog may strongly disagree!)
#3 Get your child involved
Toddlers love feeling like their skills are essential, and that they are helping their parents complete a task (even if this task is literally slowly slicing a single green bean with a child-safe knife.) Getting your child involved in the preparation of their meal will make them excited to eat their creation! We love the Franklin + Emily Learning Tower. This will elevate your toddler to perfect height for prep-cooking and dishwashing.
#4 Don’t force it
Babies are born with an amazing ability to self-regulate, and they know exactly how much their bodies need to eat each day. As parents, it’s so easy to stress over whether our kids are, “getting enough”!
A good place to start is by regularly offering a variety of healthy foods. It’s important to avoid making a big fuss over quantity consumed, no matter whether your kid asks for thirds or throws every piece of food on the floor. Your toddler ate an entire plate of spaghetti, two servings of broccoli, and half a loaf of garlic bread for lunch? Normal. Or did they just lick one pea and nibble on the corner of a fish stick? Also normal. Exposure is equally important as consumption, and patience is the name of the game! You can also try offering many small meals or “grazing platters” throughout the day, as some may prefer this to three big meals.
#5 Serve familiar favorites along with new foods
Toddlers have big emotions, and too much of a new or disliked food can be upsetting and quickly send them spiraling into meltdown-mode. Instead, try serving up a plate of well-loved macaroni and cheese with half of an asparagus tip on the side. Even if they just squash the asparagus or spit it out immediately, this is a step in the right direction!
Dining out? Try offering your picky eater a “tasting plate” at restaurants. This can include tiny portions of everyone else’s meals that you set on a plate next to their chicken nuggets for them to try (or not try!) This is a great way to expose your tot to new foods without them feeling pressured.
#6 Serve a “supper”
If you are feeling stressed because your child literally refused their entire breakfast, lunch and dinner today, and you are worried about them going to sleep hungry, try offering a supper before bedtime. This should be something substantial and satisfying like a banana, cheese stick, or a hard-boiled egg.
Non-toxic dinnerware that makes mealtime extra fun
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When you should talk to a professional about your fussy eater
The advice given in this article is of general nature, and should not be considered over medical advice.
If your child is experiencing severe food aversion that is affecting their mood, growth, or weight, or if they are excessively gagging or have difficulty swallowing, please speak to your pediatrician.
Interviews, stories, and guides on thetot.com contain information that is general in nature and should not replace professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have a medical condition or concern or plan on trying a new diet, supplement or workout, it’s best to first consult with your physician or qualified health professional.