If your child is a fussy eater, you’ve no doubt tried every trick in the book. You are probably wracked with guilt and swing between finding new ways to tempt them and giving up entirely. You’ve probably read every book and article on the subject and still come back with a big fat zero for progress. This has caused me no end of stress and I’m sure it’s the same for you.
But you know what? We might not be to blame. Some kids are just very picky.
People can be very judgemental when they see a child who is a fussy eater. They shame them into eating by talking about food waste or the effort it took to prepare.
But your child isn’t being naughty if they simply want to control what’s going in their mouths.
Here are some of the most common and unhelpful pieces of advice you will hear if you have a fussy eater. I’m sure you’ve heard them all:
- Insist they eat what you eat and provide nothing else. Never underestimate a small child’s ability to starve themselves!
- Tell them they can’t get down until they have cleaned their plate. Is it really worth turning all meals into a battleground?
- Use sticker charts What if your child has no interest in stickers?
- Shame them by talking about food waste Small children really don’t care about waste, and they’re not resisting food to be naughty.
- Cook together What if your child loves cooking but hates tasting?
My 4 yr old (lets call him Legoboy) is a fussy eater and always has been. Weaning is a tricky process for any parent, and I think the way we weaned him contributed to the way he is around food.
Advice on best practice changes over time, and there are trends which come and go. When I was a new mum, it was all about Baby Led Weaning (BLW). If you haven’t heard of it, BLW is about giving babies whole foods from the start. The research suggested that breastfed and BLW babies were better eaters. Great, I thought, I’m doing both. My baby will be the most adventurous eater around!
So following advice from my Health Visitor, I read all the books on BLW and followed it to the letter. It started off so well. We always sat together as a family, Legoboy ate what we ate; I cooked from scratch. He was trying all sorts of foods, and would even grab things off my plate (the lemon wedge from my plate of fish and chips was a particularly memorable incident!). So far so good.
Well, after 3 months of BLW, Legoboy went on strike. He didn’t want to try any more new foods. I wasn’t worried at the time because he was getting all the nutrition he needed from breast milk. However, 6 months later he was diagnosed anaemic.
We were referred to a dietician who advised cutting down the milk and increasing iron-rich foods. Which is fine if you have a child who happily chomps on red meat and spinach. But my little boy? By this time his diet consisted of chicken nuggets, sausages and fishfingers in strict rotation. With cucumber and tomatoes. And cheese sandwiches. Not much room for iron-rich foods there.
And this is the pitfall of BLW. It is fantastic for many children, but putting the child in full control can create fussy eaters because they decide not to try any more foods.
Over the years I have tried many ways of encouraging Legoboy to increase his range of foods. We even worked with an eating specialist for a while. She advised that he try a tiny bit of a new food in a separate “explorer bowl”, then we’d gradually increase the amounts.
The thing is, it would take 10 meals before he’d taste the first tiny bit. And it didn’t get us past the issue of eating combinations of food, like Shepherd’s Pie or Spaghetti.
In the end, I decided to stop pushing and just let him eat what he wanted. I was worried he would develop long term issues around food if all mealtimes were battlegrounds, so I took a step back.
And where are we now? Do you know, he’s recently made a huge leap forward. He’s 4 ½ and very curious. During lockdown we grew radishes in the back garden, and he was so excited he actually tried one.
He starts school in September, and we’ve been talking about school dinners, how they might not have his favourite foods on offer, and he’s actually started tasting some things of his own volition. It’s a huge step forward.
And what has all this taught me? Sometimes children need to come to things in their own time. So if you have a fussy eater too, don’t worry. Maybe take the pressure off yourself and leave it until they are older. They may surprise you.
Comment below with your fussy eater stories. We’re all in this together! 👇
Looking for more resources? Read the NHS guidance on fussy eaters here